During the last year of her life, my great grandmother spent time going in and out of several hospital dementia wards, most often for the urinary tract infections that so often accompany incontinence. Upon visiting her in these settings, I noticed that patients who were working on jigsaw puzzles seemed calmer than their frequently agitated peers. I went to the library to read about Alzheimer’s disease, and I learned that staying mentally active can help postpone the point at which an Alzheimer’s patient is no longer functional in society.
After Great Grams passed away in 2007, I decided to collect jigsaw puzzles and distribute them to the facilities that had helped care for her. I contacted puzzle manufacturers and I placed collection bins in local libraries and businesses, and soon puzzles began to accumulate. Often, when I brought these puzzles to dementia facilities, I would stay a while and interact with the patients. It always gave me a good feeling to put smiles on their faces. Things were going so well that I decided to form a 501(c)3 organization, so that I could accept tax-free donations to cover the cost of shipping the puzzles to more distant facilities. I found that completing those 76 pages of forms was a daunting task for a twelve year old, but I was driven, by what I had experienced with Great Grams, to make a difference in the lives of as many Alzheimer’s patients as possible.
In 2008, Puzzles To Remember became a 501(c)3 organization, and I began shipping puzzles, free, to dementia facilities. I soon realized that many of the puzzles that were being donated were not well-suited to the needs of Alzheimer’s patients. Most had juvenile themes, and even adults with Alzheimer’s are still adults who do not relate to puzzles about Sponge Bob and Dora. Many puzzles had too many pieces or pieces too small to be handled by this population. I decided to contact a puzzle manufacturer and plead my case for more appropriate puzzles, and, in 2010, Springbok PuzzlesToRemember were born. These puzzles have 12 or 36 large-sized, brightly colored pieces, with memory-provoking themes. They have been widely praised as beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients, and they are being used in many Memory Cafes. I frequently receive photos of smiling faces, as Alzheimer’s patients encounter an often elusive feeling of success. Since 2008, I have distributed over 19,300 puzzles, worth over $160,000, to over 1700 Alzheimer’s facilities around the world.