Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Puzzles for Brain Health

Isn't he charming?
My husband has always enjoyed working puzzles. For years, we subscribed to a so-so newspaper just because he enjoyed the New York Times crossword puzzle, which he usually completed in fifteen minutes or less. I enjoyed the comics and the letters to the editor, but that's a topic for another day.

Helping Papa
When my husband was diagnosed with this illness, puzzles were suggested as a possible therapy to keep his mind active. So I went out and bought puzzle books, the kind with the answers in the back in case you get stuck. But I noticed, once he started going to work with me every day so he wouldn't be home alone, that he was less and less interested in crosswords. I also noticed that he would "solve" one or two words incorrectly, get stuck (no matter how many times I suggested checking the answers in the back), and move on to another puzzle. I downloaded easier, children's crosswords to no avail. I tried mazes, which were more successful. But only for a while. And we switched to our old pal, jigsaw puzzles.

His favorite jigsaw puzzles had always been the really hard ones with lots of tiny pieces that look alike. Well, they all looked alike to me, with subtle color variations and barely any indication of skylines or lakefronts until the puzzle was coming together. It was a challenge. The pieces would be grouped together by color, shape, size. And naturally the border was always completed first, a kind of frame for corralling unruly pieces. I knew these puzzles would be out of the question.

A couple of years ago, he was interested in completing 500-piece puzzles (with quite a bit of help). A year ago, he worked 100-piece puzzles. I went to the dollar store and purchased dozens of 100-piece puzzles. Every time they had a new one I thought he'll like, it came home with us.

Today's puzzle.
Early this year, I started working the borders for him, and he worked the main body. Though he will sometimes surprise me by completing the rest of the puzzle entirely on his own, this is becoming a rarity even if he's worked the puzzle many times before. In fact, where he used to work at least one and sometimes two or even three of the 100-piece puzzles a day, he now seems to have lost interest. A puzzle can sit on the table for days, unfinished. He takes coins out of his pocket and organizes them with the puzzle pieces or even as part of the puzzle, as if they somehow belong there.

Has the task become too much for him to handle, or is he just bored? I suspect the former. There's lots about this illness that's evil and discouraging and depressing. This is just one of many things.


  1. My mom's Alzheimer's has the same progression. She was really into sudokus, not crosswords, and she can't even do the simple ones anymore. Even though she got really fanatic about them when first diagnosed, because all the doctors said that it was important to keep doing puzzles and such. I don't believe it made any difference. She can't even read short stories anymore, or follow a tv show. She used to paint, she can barely produce anything abstract anymore. All her hobbies have been taken from her and she has no idea how to fill the time. Her solution is to 'straighten up" the house. With very comical results...

  2. I'm so sorry, Marleen. This disease is such a monstrous thief. Thank you for sharing your mom's progression with me. I hope you will continue to do so, as it will be interesting to see how they "track." If you don't mind telling me, what age group is your mom? You did make me smile with the "straighten up the house" solution...I could tell you some stories! And I probably will at some point. Someone told me I should carry a notebook so I can write down all the items of interest for others. But I'd be writing in it all day long. I know you understand what I mean! Hang in there, Marleen. You are doing a great job for your mom, and you still have a sense of humor about it. Bless you!