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Getting the Most From Dementia Jigsaw Puzzles

Puzzles such as our Sequenced Jigsaw Puzzles that are designed to help people with dementia successfully enjoy a favorite pastime are an excellent cognitive exercise, not to mention lots of fun.

But they can be much more.

In a recent review for our Around the Bird Feeder puzzle on Amazon.com, a customer wrote:

“After multiple strokes, Mom is in a 'Memory Care' Unit. This puzzle walks you through assembly with color coded sections. 'Tray' shows selections by color outlines. Once easy version is mastered, puzzle can be put together without the 'cheater tray'. Comes in a zip pouch for storage. There is a descriptive paragraph on each bird. Great for conversation and added mental stimulation.

Putting together the puzzle

The last sentence is key and serves as a reminder that with the right puzzle, putting it together is only the beginning. Many people miss the opportunity to use the puzzle as a starting point for interesting and stimulating discussion and reminiscing. They concentrate on putting the puzzle together, and miss out on the chance to engage the person even further.

We provide a “Key Guide” describing the birds and animals with many of our puzzles, but that’s just a starting point. More important is to ask leading questions that help the person focus on certain parts of the puzzle and talk about what they like, such as:

  • “How many birds are in the picture?”
  • “Which is your favorite?”
  • “Why is that your favorite?”

This can then lead to more general questions and discussion such as:

  • “Do you ever look out the window and watch the birds?”
  • “Did you ever have a bird feeder at home?”
  • “Were there any specific birds that you were trying to feed?”
  • “Was there something specific that you did to attract them?”
  • “Did other birds or animals ever visit the bird feeder?”

Follow the person’s lead and prompt them with new questions when needed to keep the conversation flowing. You will be amazed at where the conversation goes. It is important to keep in mind is that the purpose of the discussion is to encourage the person to tell their stories and memories, not for you to tell yours. It is all too easy to get caught up in the moment and talk about your experiences but the key to success is to lead the person to talk about theirs.

Choosing an Appropriate Puzzle Image

Choosing an appropriate puzzle image is an important part of being able to have a successful discussion.

For people in early stages of dementia, introducing new and “exotic” topics can spark their interest and encourage them to participate. People in mid-stage will find it easier to engage when the image topic is familiar and has the potential to trigger automatic responses. For example, it could be great fun to pursue a conversation about the appearance, characteristics and habitat of an ostrich or zebra in a puzzle image with someone in the early stages of dementia, but it may be more difficult to engage someone in later stages. A puzzle image with a more familiar bird, such as a crow or a blue jay will be more easily recognized and the person would be more likely to participate.

Another consideration when choosing a puzzle for discussion is to ensure that the complexity of the image is appropriate. For someone in early stages of dementia a cluttered image with lots going on, such as our Downtown Christmas puzzle, has lots of different things to find in the picture and talk about. For someone in later stages it may be too complex for them to pick out individual parts to talk about. A more appropriate puzzle would have less going on in the image, such as our Chickadee Duo, which is brightly colored but has only two birds and a lilac bush. Conversation about the scent of lilac, chickadees flying around the garden and chirping away are likely to flow easily.

For more information on success with jigsaw puzzles, see our articles How to Choose a Jigsaw Puzzles and Success With Jigsaw Puzzles

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