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Using jigsaw puzzles to keep the mind active

Across the UK, one person develops dementia every three minutes. Dementia Action Week, which starts on May 21, will focus on taking actions which can improve the lives of people affected by dementia – and might even stop or slow down the onset of the condition.

Research has shown that keeping the mind active – whether through playing word games, using colouring books, discussing current affairs or sharing memories with relatives and friends – can help to delay or even prevent dementia.

Our 2017 Minister for Jigsaws Sue Riches knows this and was the reason she formed her wonderful and popular social club - Piece Together - encouraging people of all ages to exercise their brains through jigsaw puzzles.

“Any social interaction or brain stimulation as you get older is important. Keeping as active as possible – both mentally and socially, as well as physically – can boost memory and self esteem, and help to avoid depression” she explains.

“Jigsaws can be ideal for that. For people with short-term memory problems, who might once have taken their stimulation from reading, books can become too complicated as they get older as they struggle to remember what they have already read. But a jigsaw is something that you can come back to and quite literally pick up the pieces from where you left off.”

A study published by the American Academy of Neurology showed that people who participated in frequent mentally stimulating activities both early and late in life had a slower rate of decline in memory compared to those who didn’t pursue such activities across their lifetime. The study, carried out by the Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, found that the rate of decline was reduced by 32 percent in people with frequent mental activity in late life.

Sue carries on to say that it was while caring for her mother that she first realised the therapeutic qualities of a jigsaw: “My 94-year-old mum always has a puzzle on the go. Not only does it give her something to do, it also forms a conversation piece with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and with the carers who go in to see her daily.”

Older lasy doing a jigsaw puzzle for active minds

And since founding Piece Together two years ago, Sue has seen membership of the group grow to more than 100, a diverse group of all ages who meet each month for fun and social puzzling, and can borrow jigsaws and other puzzles to take away. “It’s basically a jigsaw library with tea and cakes,” says Sue. “We always have a couple of puzzles on the go at the meetings, but some members just come along to swap their puzzles and to have a chat.”

We’ve helped support Sue and her Piece Together Club, as our 100 piece puzzles are ideal for those whose motor skills may be in decline, and we’ve helped the group to build up a great range of puzzles for their members. We’ve also put together some guidelines for others wanted to start up their own Piece Together club and information can be found here.

Sue thinks our puzzles are especially good as they have whimsical shaped pieces which each match the theme of the jigsaw – and we offer the same picture with different numbers of pieces, to suit the level of challenge which the puzzler would like to tackle.

Dementia Action Week is aimed at, not only raising awareness of, but also getting people to take action to help raise as much as they can so research can continue into finding a cure for Dementia. In support of this amazing cause we are donating 10% off all our puzzle sales via our website and phone lines to The Alzheimer's Society during Dementia Action Week.

“Jigsaws are no longer just a picture of a country cottage or fishing boats bobbing on a pretty harbour. There are so many topics of interest – and there’s a vast range of sizes and in the number of pieces, so you can always find something which is perfect for your interests and the level of challenge that you want to take on.” Sue highlights about our puzzles.

And our bespoke puzzles can also be very beneficial as they can feature whatever you want such as your own family images or old black-and-white pictures, they can really help an older person to stay in touch with these very personal memories.

The current popularity of jigsaws is such that from March 2017 they were added to the UK’s official Consumer Price Index for the first time. “It’s an activity that appeals to all ages,” says Sue. “We have members aged from their 20s to their 90s and it can be a really enjoyable inter-generational activity which people of all ages can enjoy together. And it’s great for getting younger people away from their computer screens and mobile phones!”

Old and young generations doing a jigsaw puzzle

“By doing a puzzle the person is completely involved in the activity, and time just flies. Mindfulness is all about being in the moment, rather than worrying about the future or fretting about the past.

“And what a great sense of achievement you get, when you put in the final piece!”

Using jigsaw puzzles to keep the mind active