Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia that interferes with memory, thinking, and behaviour. The disease worsens over time and become severe enough to interfere with daily life, and finally leads to death as body functions fail. This particular kind of dementia accounts for 50 to 80 percent of cases.
What if, however, there was a way to slow the loss of cognition so significantly that those patients who develop Alzheimer’s have additional years with their friends and loved ones?
The answer may lay in the realm of neuroplasticity and jigsaw puzzles.
Scientists think it is possible for the brain to grow new connections when exposed to different challenges. This is called neuroplasticity. A great starting place to provide more challenge in daily life is by doing free online jigsaw puzzles, or the classic cardboard type. In addition to being fun, jigsaw puzzles are great for brain training.
In terms of preventing Alzheimer’s disease, it is not challenging enough for people simply to go through daily routines ‘as usual’. Without stimulating the mind, over time people are at risk for the degenerative effects of Alzheimer’s which culminate in overall, irreversible brain damage and finally death. A far better solution is to challenge the brain through different activities so that synapses, like muscles that get regular exercise, fire more effectively even when not in use. With a more active firing rate, the advancement of Alzheimer’s symptoms slow, and what symptoms there are become less apparent. Brain research studies have illustrated that daily brain training like that of jigsaw puzzles can reduce the chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 50%. Brain training is a gamble worth taking as the individual has everything to win and nothing to lose. Jigsaw puzzles are an easy and viable method of brain training, as they require a diverse set of cognitive tools.
Both online jigsaw puzzles and cardboard puzzles help to develop the brain’s ability to reason, deduce sequence, analyze, and think logically. The puzzles also improve hand-eye coordination and working memory. These are all skills that humans should continue to hone throughout life so that brain connections remain viable. Both classic and online jigsaw puzzles hone the skills of problem-solving and working memory. Problem solving requires a variable set of skills to aid the brain in coming up with a solution. As a patient compares pieces of the puzzle and determines whether they fit or not, they develop this vital skill. There are also overall problem solving skills that are required for solving puzzles – where to start the puzzle and how to proceed until completion are two major examples of this type of problem solving. Working memory skills dovetail with problem-solving ability, for example, if a puzzle piece does not fit, it is set aside for later consideration while the brain retains a memory of the characteristics of that piece in case it becomes needed in the next task. Over time, the human brain becomes more adept at these tasks, showing that progressive challenges are required so that the brain continues to stay healthy.
Human beings are not designed to live in isolation. Research shows that the more connected we are with other people, the better our cognition fares. While putting together a cardboard jigsaw puzzle, like those made by Ravensburger, or through a free online jigsaw puzzle, we can share the following with a friend:
Quality time together
An enjoyable activity
A new experience
Jigsaw puzzles easily fulfill all three of these criteria for fun social interaction. Additionally, having a lengthy conversation with someone while doing a puzzle together really makes the brain rise to the challenge of multitasking which helps keep Alzheimer’s at bay.
Puzzles for Alzheimer’s patients
Jigsaw puzzles have proven to be so beneficial for patients with early and late stage Alzheimer’s disease. To date, there are actually a few manufacturers that make puzzles specifically for patients. The pieces tend to be larger and fewer (much like a child’s puzzle) though the subject matter is more suited to an adult point of view. Due to their use in institutional settings, puzzles for the Alzheimer’s market tend to be made of material that is more durable.
Jigsaw puzzles are a great way to train your brain whether you are experiencing cognitive decline, or are proactively deciding to avoid it. Either way, both online jigsaw puzzles and cardboard puzzles (like those crafted by Ravensburger) provide a compelling activity, fun social experience, or brain challenge all wrapped up together.