Jigsaw puzzles to stimulate the mind
Today jigsaw puzzles are a familiar product on the retailers shelf. Originally invented by the London mapmaker, John Spilsbury in the mid 18th century they were developed as an aid to teach geography. Two hundred and fifty years later, jigsaw puzzles are still in the marketplace thanks to their enduring appeal to all age groups.
Today, images are printed rather than hand painted onto the board surface. The puzzles are made of cardboard as opposed to wood and are cut by precision machines rather than hand sawn with a jigsaw as in Spilsburys day. As a gesture to their origins, some manufacturers still produce a few titles (especially for children) from wooden boards. Used as an early teaching tool, world maps would be painted on the board, be cut up using a jigsaw into the various countries and put together again by young geography students.
Inserting the correct piece into the appropriate space requires both cognitive ability and manual dexterity. Not only the shape (which tends to be similar) but color are clues to proper assembly. For those whose cognitive powers are not as acute as they once were, jigsaw puzzles are a fun way of exercising the mind as well as practicing small motor skills.
Obviously there are many ways to stimulate the brain such as reading, crosswords or playing mind teasers such as Sudoku. Card games have the added benefit of socialization as well as deductive reasoning. It has been recently brought to light that physical exercise and diet rather than mental feats alone will help prevent the onset of dementia.
In order to allow seniors an easier option you can now find 500 piece puzzles the same overall size as a 1000 piece puzzle. Completing a puzzle instills a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction requiring the individual to observe, think about and finally execute a set of skills unique to puzzle making. Puzzles can be either solitary pursuits or family activities. As therapy they can be made up in groups with each individual assigned as specific task such as assembling the same color or straight edges.
The four identifiable phases of memory are learning, consolidation, storage and recall. Recall is the key to determining the viability and/or deterioration of the other three stages. If, under competitive circumstances, a healthy puzzle hobbyist can assemble a 1000 piece puzzle in about an hour then there is reason to believe that a senior will benefit by using the skills of learning and consolidation to a relative degree with an overall benefit to recall skills.
As an attempt to address the problems of the aging brain, clinical studies and chemical discoveries as well as gene therapies appear reassuring and may even offer treatment today. Prior intervention requiring only the mildest but repeated stimulation such as discussed above is preferable to medical intervention. Diet, exercise and mental activity are the sure ways to provide stimulating challenges as well as pleasurable activities whose benefits could last decades.
We do not count our limbs or physical parts of our bodies as ourselves. The mind though is where we as individuals reside; the loss of which presents the greatest fear. Unassuming exercises such as jigsaw puzzles may help prolong a healthy mind and enhance the pleasure of life.