7 Facts about Activities for Alzheimer, Dementia & Stroke Patients

7 Facts about Activities for Alzheimer, Dementia & Stroke Patients

Alzheimer, dementia and stroke patients want age appropriate activities; and need age appropriate themes to help keep their dignity.

I discovered activities used in Elder Care & Alzheimer’s, Dementia Care facilities were not meeting the needs of their patients in 2008. More shocking, they were the same activities my mother used 10 years earlier.

During that time, activities such as jigsaw puzzles were the same for everyone: elderly, Alzheimer’s, dementia and stroke patients. Meaning the same size, number of pieces and themes.

1. Activities such as puzzles did not meet elderly, dementia and stroke patients physical and mental needs.

Activity directors and caregivers knew these activities were frustrating their patients and they too were frustrated.

2. Most jigsaw puzzles being used were age appropriate, large puzzles with many small thin pieces, OR, children’s puzzles of few pieces.

3. Your Loved One does NOT enjoy putting children’s puzzles together. These puzzles make your mother, father or spouse feel, like a child.

Elderly patients are embarrassed and humiliated while working on a child’s puzzle.

Keep in mind they may have Alzheimer’s or Dementia but they still have feelings.

Unfortunately, today, many jigsaw puzzles being used for activities still do not meet both physical and mental needs of Alzheimer, dementia and stroke patients.

Intimidation & Frustration

If you place a large puzzle, with many pieces in front of your loved one with dementia, they won’t know where or how to begin.

  • They will feel intimidated the moment they see the puzzle.
  • They will automatically back away with a feeling of failure.

4. Age appropriate adult puzzles & games for Alzheimer’s, Dementia and stroke patients were a huge problem for caregivers in homes and care centers because the puzzles and games were all too difficult.

Many patients were experiencing FAILURE and FRUSTRATION.

Step into their shoes!

Think about this, elderly patients are not any different than you & I; ask yourself, if a task appears too difficult, what do you do?

Many of us, glide away or perhaps, fake it for a few moments, and then say forget this, it’s too difficult.

Some of us take a peek… I’m out of here! Do you agree?

Dementia patients expressing their feelings

I have heard the words “I don’t want to play anymore” when a puzzle or game is too difficult while working with residents.

What’s different? Children can and do express themselves.

When a child is upset or doesn’t want to do the puzzle or play the game, they express themselves, sometimes with tears and shouting.

If you have children or grandchildren, I’m sure you have heard and observed these scenes.

But, if your mother, father or spouse with dementia does not want to participate and express themselves, sometimes he or she is tagged as “acting out”.

Think about this, they are not any different than you & I; ask yourself, if a task appears too difficult, what do you do?

Many of us, glide away or perhaps, fake it for a few moments, then say forget this, it’s too difficult.

Some of us take a peek… I’m out of here! Do you agree?

Many times elderly patients say nothing, stop participating, walk or get wheeled away with feelings of humiliation and failure, because they cannot do the activity or have forgotten how.

If only we could walk in their shoes for a day.

5. Very few easy puzzles had age appropriate storytelling themes.

Storytelling themes were wanted and needed because they help caregivers and families engage their loved one in conversation.

Memory Activities, Brain Exercise & Memory Exercise

6. Today, very few jigsaw puzzles and games on the market meet BOTH physical & mental needs of Alzheimer’s, seniors with dementia and stroke patients.

In other words many patients are not benefiting from their brain exercise and memory activities, most, unfortunately, are still getting frustrated.

Jigsaw Puzzles with Storytelling theme and many pieces

For instance: It’s a jigsaw puzzle with a storytelling theme but there are 30 thin cardboard/chipboard pieces.

The only thing positive about this jigsaw puzzle is the story telling theme. Your loved one with dementia or limited mobility can admire the puzzle, but most likely unable to complete it.

Most likely these elderly patients will have a difficult time picking up the thin pieces and lucky to find the right spot.

They may appear busy, but lets face it, this is frustrating.

Dementia Activities Appear Difficult, Now What?

Memory Activities for Alzheimer, Dementia and Stroke Patients

When jigsaw puzzle or memory activity is played at individuals level, you will keep their interest because they are experiencing success and a feeling of pride, while improving their problem solving skills.

Fear of Failure

Perhaps the reason many elderly do not want to participate in their activities, is not because they don’t want to join in, BUT because they are afraid of failure.

Help them remember! They may have forgotten how to work with a puzzle or play a memory game.

Memory Activities Group example:


Rose put a 12 piece puzzle together by herself without any trouble.

Next, she played with the gossips card game for a while.

• Then, she picked up another 12 piece puzzle, started to put it together and became very upset and began to cry.

She could not remember how to put it together.

She just needed a little assistance, finished the puzzle with a smile and said at the end “this was a fun time”.

Memory Activities with Memory Jogging Puzzles & Memory Exercise Cards

This was a large group of about 18 residents, too many for one person and another lesson learned.

Many did not need help, and if they got stuck the person next to them would help out. The chatter and laughter among them was great.

Frustration sets in so easily when elderly patients cannot remember how to do activities they once did so well.

It only takes a minute or so to help them and they are okay.

After thought: I was thinking about Rose and what happened.

If this would have been a one on one situation with Rose, we would have done the puzzles first and then switched to the cards.

I feel if she would have reached for the 2nd puzzle, after completing the first one, she would not have needed assistance.

Her rhythm or thought process was broken when she switched to the gossip cards and then went back to the puzzles.

Her memory of how to put the puzzle together was easily recalled with a little help.

Secret. . . Completing a task, no matter the size is success.

• No matter the size, it takes concentration.

• Repetition helps help slow down memory loss and brain deterioration and improves concentration.

7. Some families use photos of loved ones, objects or buildings from their loved ones past trying to stimulate conversation and memory.

Most Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients do not remember their loved ones, names, places or objects from their past.

This causes more frustration for family and patient, it is best not to ask “do you remember”?

5 minutes with dementia patient

Activity Directors Across USA

Frustrated and aware of these problems, activity directors and caregivers were very open with me sharing the needs of their patients. Their input was very helpful to me in designing jigsaw puzzles and memory games.

2008: Memory Jogging Puzzles & Memory Exercise Card Games were developed and designed for people with Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia and stroke patients with limited mobility; to help slow down memory loss, brain deterioration or maintain the level they are in.

These puzzles are also referred to as: Memory Puzzles, Alzheimer’s Puzzles, Norman Rockwell Puzzles, Cognitive Exercise, Brain Games

Memory Exercise Card Games also referred to as: Memory Games, Matching Games, Thinking Games or Memory Match Games

Memory Jogging Puzzles and Matching Games are Brain Games for:
• Cognitive Therapy
• Brain Exercise
• Memory Exercise

Choosing Puzzles for your loved one:

We think surely the 6 piece puzzle would be too easy for mom or dad but sometimes it isn’t.

I suggest both the 6 piece puzzle and 12 piece puzzle for brain training, starting with the 6 piece. When it is put together easily, introduce the 12 piece puzzle.

If frustration shows up, gently go back to the 6 piece.

 Powerful Jigsaw Puzzles for your loved one with dementia

Take a step back

You may be tired, but do not make a deep sigh, it is amazing how elderly patients pick up on our frustrations.

Each individual is unique, keep in mind it is better for your loved one to experience success with a 6 piece puzzle rather than experience frustration and tears with a 12 piece puzzle.

The 20 piece puzzle is recommended for elderly to early onset dementia.

The 20 piece is recommended for elderly to early onset dementia.

Completion and the feeling of success will build self esteem and self confidence, no matter the size of puzzle.

Elderly get tired, lose focus and interest, and will stop participating in activity, for this the reason activity directors suggest no more than 15-20 minutes for activities.

A few minutes often, is better for everyone. In the beginning, I like to spend maybe 10-15 minutes, of good interaction.


Before your visit, think about how you are going to spend your time with the person and avoid situations that might cause frustration.

I suggest for you to bring in puzzle or game and take it with you when you leave, otherwise your loved one will put it in a special place and not remember where it is, plus it is like bringing a gift.

Check out 12 piece puzzles

Check out Memory Games & Matching Games

Play interactive dementia puzzle games

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©Karen Miller