jigsaw puzzles fro the elderly
Despite their innocent beginning, jigsaw puzzles, invented in the late 18th century by London mapmaker John Spilsbury, have endured two hundred and fifty years of consumer acceptance as a pastime not entirely anticipated by their inventor. Today puzzles come in multiple piece counts from as few as 10 enormous pieces for young children to assemble on the floor up to 20000 pieces for the most avid puzzle hobbyist that can take up to a year to complete.
Puzzles nowadays are no longer made of wood but of high density cardboard and are die stamped in a massive press to ensure a precision cut and consistent quality. In Spilsbury's day they would have been made of hand painted wooden boards which were then cut into pieces with a jigsaw. World maps would have been painted on the board to be put together again in the classroom.
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.
Puzzles though do have their own benefits and require observational, cognitive and motor skills which make the pastime unique not to mention satisfying. As the population ages the puzzle companies have taken to manufacturing puzzles with extra large pieces. Nowadays there are 500 piece puzzles with the same dimensions as a regular 1000 piece puzzle. Such puzzles tend to be more obvious from a visual standpoint with bright colors and more distinctly shaped pieces.
Learning, consolidation, storage and recall are the four distinct stages of memory. Without the ability to recall it is impossible to determine the deterioration (or lack thereof) of the other three stages in an individual. If the mind of a healthy puzzler can put together a 1000 piece puzzle in less than one hour (which is a regular competitive feat) then by encouraging those same learning and consolidation techniques in a senior there is every reason to believe a cognitive benefit will be gained.
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.
As individuals we are each made up our unique set of memories. The great fear is that as we age we will lose our ability to remain ourselves. It should be a benign undertaking to encourage those who can to take advantage of the various tools available to keep minds active and prolong the pleasure of a healthy mind and body