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5 Best Puzzles for Dementia Patients

By Rachel DupontMay 12, 2022
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Dementia isn’t a single disease, but a general term for a decline in cognitive function. People with dementia have a combination of symptoms that go beyond typical age-related memory loss. They may experience confusion, impaired judgment, and decreased ability to function in addition to memory concerns.

Puzzles are an excellent way for seniors with dementia to strengthen cognition, reduce agitation, and promote a feeling of accomplishment. They can also be a fun way for family or caregivers to engage with their loved one.


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4 benefits of puzzles for seniors with dementia

Puzzles and games, along with other stimulating activities, can increase cognitive scores in seniors with dementia, according to a study of over 325 adults conducted by the University of Wisconsin.

While it’s uncertain whether these benefits are due to the activity itself or to the aspect of social interaction working on puzzles provides, the positive effects are nevertheless noticeable.

Here are several wonderful benefits to puzzles for adults with dementia.

  1. Puzzles can offer a sense of accomplishment. Like anyone else, seniors with dementia can benefit from having a sense of purpose, overcoming a challenge, and achieving a feeling of accomplishment. Puzzles are a great activity that combines fun and mental stimulation.
  2. Puzzles are an excellent way to manage stress. The confusion and memory loss associated with dementia can be frustrating, and it may lead to agitation and irritability. Puzzles can be a soothing activity, much like meditation. While keeping your loved one focused on a positive activity, puzzles help with problem-solving, which can offer feelings of confidence and empowerment.
  3. Puzzles exercise the brain. The brain is like any other part of the body — it needs exercise in order to keep functioning properly. Actively spending time problem-solving can boost cognitive function and has been shown to slow the progression of dementia, according to research published in Frontiers in Neuroscience.
  4. Puzzles are a way to foster social connection. Your loved one with dementia may have a hard time holding a conversation or following the plot of a movie. Not only is this frustrating for your parent, but it may be hard on you as well.It may be difficult to be patient. You may also experience grief seeing that your loved one isn’t able to communicate in the way they used to. Solving a puzzle together can be a great way to connect. The tangible components of the puzzle can act as cues that help your loved one stay grounded and remember what they’re working on.

5 great puzzles for seniors with dementia

Puzzles are popular with a variety of age groups. It’s easy to see why — puzzles are not only good for young, developing brains, but they can benefit people of all ages. Plus, they’re a lot of fun and there are many types to choose from.

When choosing puzzles for an adult with dementia, it’s important to find ones that will pose a challenge but not be so difficult that they’ll cause frustration or discouragement.

Take a look at these top five puzzles for seniors with dementia.

1. Jigsaw puzzles

A classic and fun choice, jigsaw puzzles have been found to improve cognitive abilities, according to research published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience. They can help with visual-spatial processing, episodic memory, and regulation of emotions.

You can add a thoughtful touch by choosing a jigsaw puzzle that will best appeal to your loved one’s taste and interests. Perhaps there’s an art piece or style that they like. Or you could find an image of a landmark like the Eiffel Tower or the peaceful canals of Venice. If your loved one has traveled in the past, you can try to find a puzzle that’s reminiscent of a place that holds fond memories. You can even find an image of their favorite animal or of a familiar popular culture reference.

Whatever you choose, you’ll want to pick a puzzle that isn’t too overwhelming. Depending on how far your loved one’s dementia has progressed, their skill level may vary. Puzzles designed for seniors with dementia are usually under 100 pieces. There are also puzzles designed for seniors with advanced dementia, some of which may only have 5-10 large pieces.

2. Customized jigsaw puzzles

In addition to all the benefits and appeal of a classic jigsaw, you can add an extra personal touch by having a puzzle custom made. Choose a photograph that prompts your loved one’s memories and encourages reminiscence. A picture of the grandkids, your loved one’s wedding photograph, or a family picture from a reunion or holiday are just a few of the endless possibilities.

3. Word games and puzzle books

There are a lot of different types of word games and word puzzles to choose from. Letter scrambles, word searches, and crossword puzzles are excellent cognitive exercises. Not only are word puzzles a lot of fun, they also help boost recall and assist in memory retention. Many puzzle books will include other types of games, like mazes, riddles, brain teasers, and spot-the-difference pictures. These encourage problem solving, logical reasoning, and focus. You can find large-print word puzzle books with a variety of puzzles to keep things fun and interesting for your loved one.

4. Tangram puzzles

Tangram is an ancient Chinese puzzle with seven geometric pieces that fit together into a square. A tangram puzzle usually includes pictures of multiple arrangements that can be made from the pieces in order to resemble animals or other familiar objects. Arranging the pieces with only a silhouette as a guide is an excellent exercise in reasoning, spatial awareness, and problem solving.

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5. Dominoes

There are a number of ways to interact with dominoes. They can be used as a puzzle by matching ends with the same number of dots. They can be set up on their sides in winding trails and then knocked over in one satisfying swoop. There are also a number of puzzle-like domino games you can play with your loved one. One option is Crow’s Feet, which involves connecting the pieces by their common numbers and creating trails that branch off. Dominoes can also be a fun, interactive activity for the whole family to participate in along with your loved one.

How to get the most out of puzzle time

When planning any activity for your senior loved one, make sure to pay attention to their needs. It’s important to find a puzzle that appropriately matches their skills to build positive associations through environment, success, and variety. Here are a few more tips to make the most of puzzle time:

  1. Set the scene. A tidy, uncluttered surface with space to spread out the puzzle pieces will make for a more soothing activity time. Brew up a cup of coffee or tea, pop a bowl of popcorn, and light a softly scented candle. If it’s not too distracting, play some gentle music. Be sure to create an environment that’s stimulating but not overwhelming. If the chosen activity is a jigsaw, keep the box or image within access, so your loved one can reference it as needed.
  2. Quit while it’s still fun. If after a while your loved one is becoming listless, frustrated, or overly tired, it may be time to stop. You can put it away until tomorrow. With any activity that poses a challenge, try to stop while it’s still fun. This helps ensure it doesn’t become a source of additional stress. A useful method is to set aside a half hour for puzzling. You can adjust the time based on your loved one’s interest level. Once the time is up, move on to another activity, like coloring or taking a walk.
  3. Mix it up. Keep a few different jigsaw scenes on hand, as well as other types of puzzles. As the puzzles become familiar, they’ll be useful for memory recall. However, variety will help puzzling stay challenging and exciting and will offer the best mental stimulation.

Puzzles are a positive way to interact with your aging loved one while helping maintain their brain development. They are just one of many ways to offer support to seniors with dementia.

There may come a time when you need to seek additional help caring for your loved one with long-term memory care or in-home care. Contact a free Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom to learn more and find out what’s right for your family.

Sources: 

Abacare. (2018, August 6). The benefits of jigsaw puzzles for people with dementia.

Fissler, P., Küster, O. C., Laptinskaya, D., Loy, L. S., von Arnim, C., & Kolassa, I. T. (2018, October 1). Jigsaw puzzling taps multiple cognitive abilities and is a potential protective factor for cognitive agingFrontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 10, 299.

Heerema, E. (2022, February 27). Do crossword puzzles prevent dementia?. VeryWell Health.

Schultz, S. A., Larson, J., Oh, J., Koscik, R., Dowling, M. N., Gallagher, C. L., Carlsson, C. M., Rowley, H. A., Bendlin, B. B., Asthana, S., Hermann, B. P., Johnson, S. C., Sager, M., LaRue, A., & Okonkwo, O. C. (2015, December). Participation in cognitively-stimulating activities is associated with brain structure and cognitive function in preclinical Alzheimer’s diseaseBrain Imaging and Behavior, 9(4), 729–736.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and the puzzles selected and described in the article are based on the research findings and opinions of the author. None of the contents are intended to constitute medical, legal, or financial advice or to create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

Author
Rachel Dupont

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