Memory Jogging Puzzles for Alzheimer's & Dementia Patients

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Memory Games for the Elderly
In a number of studies that looked at the effect of memory training on memory performance, improvements in memory performance have been reported. In one such research1, the researchers trained a sample of 80-year-old adults twice weekly over a time period of 3 months. Participants were tested on 4 different memory measures before, and immediately after training completion. The researchers found overall increased memory performance in the experimental group compared to an active control group immediately after training completion. This increase was especially pronounced in visual working memory performance and, to a smaller degree, also in visual episodic memory and they concluded that even in the very old, brain plasticity was strong enough to result in performance increases in tasks that were not trained during intervention.

Studies also indicate that patients who regularly complete word searches are 64% less likely to develop early Alzheimer's symptoms or mistake cheddar for family members. Apparently the harder the word search the better, as those who completed puzzles with lots of backward diagonal words fared better still, and also at healthier.

According to James Franklin, director of Alzheimer's Research at the Chicago School of Non-Religious Medicine,

"There is something about finding words in a large grid full of letters that is health food for the brain. We did brain wave studies on old, confused folks completing the puzzles and were shocked to see the explosiveness of noggin-related activity when words were found…especially the backward diagonal ones."

Ken Stephens, CEO of Word Search International, a for-profit riddle group, was delighted by the findings.

"We’ve always championed the intellectual stimulation our puzzles provide, and finally we have medical studies to back us up," said Stephens, who added, "This is going to look great on the top of our covers in bright yellow lettering!"

Stephens admits the Word Search industry has hit tough times in recent years, most often blamed on the cult-like following of Sudoku puzzles. But now he’s confident that people will “come home again,” and, "seriously, this isn't a cult or drug or anything."

Stephens also stated that the latest findings will influence how future puzzles are put together. “We’ve always started puzzles by putting easy words on the top line that just jump off the page for our players... But now we’re going to make everyone work a little harder. No more freebies, not even for the old or stupid! Don't say that last part.”

Memory jogging puzzles are widely accepted as brain exercises that can help slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other brain degradation problems. The key though is to choose a puzzle that is effective, age-appropriate and enjoyable to the patients. For the activity directors, an effective puzzle would meet the following criteria:

  • Activities that were age-appropriate and enjoyable
  • Storytelling themes, to encourage conversation
  • Durable, long-lasting puzzles—not cheap cardboard
  • Larger pieces, but smaller puzzles, for easy handling
  • Puzzles that could be completed in a single session, imparting a sense of accomplishment rather than failure

Today, puzzles are available in the form of pieces, crossword puzzles on paper or book and in electronic form on some type of console or online through the internet.
Using your favorite search engine you can easily find some that are appropriate for your loved ones or group. If you choose a puzzle with pieces make sure the pieces are easy to handle and safe. Group puzzles are particularly good for Alzheimer’s patients as it encourages conversation and reminiscing.


  1. Buschkuehl et al, “Impact of working memory training on memory performance in old-old adults,” Psychology and Aging, Vol. 23(4), Dec 2008, 743-753

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