Jigsaw Puzzles – Activities We Can Do With Our Loved Ones With Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementias

I will be posting from time to time on activities that we can do with our loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias, so today I decided to start with jigsaw puzzles.

I remember as we were growing up that Mom would start a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, putting it on the end of our incredibly long kitchen table, two or three times a year, and we, as a family, would work on it, sometimes together and sometimes one at a time, for several days until it was finished.

Those puzzles became the focal point of concentrated time together, no matter what else what happening in our lives. Even if – as was often the case as the three of us kids crashed at the same time into adolescence – we were all out of sorts in one way or another with each other, those puzzles would bring us together. And even if we weren’t talking or we were sulking or stewing or whatever else the teenage years brings with it, we’d all sit down and work together for a little while.

I have often marveled at Mom’s wisdom in doing this. She could be the hardest of us, at times, to get “unmad,” but somewhere along the way, she realized doing jigsaw puzzles was a way to rebuild bridges among us and reestablish lines of communication.

Once we kids left home, I don’t remember Mom ever doing a jigsaw puzzle again. It wasn’t something that Dad ever did with us, so when the time came that it was just the two of them again, they found other things they enjoyed doing together.

But after Dad died and Mom moved into a senior living community she chose, Mom started working on jigsaw puzzles again. The “ladies” had a table in the community living room where they’d work on a puzzle. Because I was there every day, Mom would often ask me to come down and work on the current puzzle with her and we’d spend an hour or two working on it together.

As Mom’s vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease became evident and were progressing, I looked for things we could do together that would keep her mind active and not frustrate her. I discovered that jigsaw puzzles were one of the activities that we could do.

But not just any jigsaw puzzles. Because Mom’s eyesight was getting worse as well and because her ability to identify shapes was declining, I found that large-format, 300-piece jigsaw puzzles were the best fit for our need. 

Buffalo Games and Ravensburger make the best-quality large-format 300-piece jigsaw puzzles. It’s best to stick with their jigsaw puzzles that don’t have a ton of detail (like the city jigsaw puzzles) to put these together with our loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Too much detail is too confusing and frustrating.

There are several online stores that offer large-format, 300-piece jigsaw puzzles. The two that I used most often were Bits and Pieces and Puzzle Warehouse.

Jigsaw puzzles, interestingly, can give us a lot of insights about how the brains of our loved ones are functioning and the progression of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

I always had Mom pick out the border pieces. As her dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease progressed, this was more problematic for her. The day we started our last jigsaw puzzle together in May 2012, she picked out some border pieces, but most of the pieces were just random.

The last jigsaw puzzle we completed together, a month or so before, I noticed how frustrating it was for her to do, even though she wanted to do it,  and knew somewhere in the back of my mind that was probably the last one we would do together.

The strangest thing I noticed all along, though, was that she would always go for the interior parts that were a solid color. Like the sky. Rationally, I knew that would be the hardest part to do because it was all one color and, yet, that’s what she would start on. I would try to get her to help me find pieces for more doable parts of the jigsaw puzzle and most of the time that worked. But inevitably, Mom would always go back to the solid colors. I’m not sure why, but it always fascinated me.

I’m thankful we had the opportunities to do jigsaw puzzles together. It gave us quality time together away from the day-to-day medical stuff and “have-to-do” stuff that can get in the way, if we allow it to, of our relationships as family, as friends, as parent and child. When we were working on jigsaw puzzles, we were able to capture the essence of who we were to each and other and together before all of that and who we were to each other and together in spite of all of that. 

We created good memories that I’ll carry with me the rest of my life. I’m including some of the jigsaw puzzles that Mama and I did together.

3 thoughts on “Jigsaw Puzzles – Activities We Can Do With Our Loved Ones With Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementias

  1. This is exactly why MindStart, a designer of dementia products, was born. As an occupational therapist, I saw my patients who were avid puzzlers move from 500 piece puzzles when healthy to 100 after dementia to stopping puzzling all together. When I realized that we needed that next-step, adult oriented puzzle, MindStart was born. We offer 12 and 26 piece puzzles that have groups of colors together – just what your mother needed! This is also how I observed patients putting together puzzles, as their dementia progressed, so this is how the puzzles were designed. See www. Mind-start.com for more info on dementia puzzles and other products.

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