Saturday 14 November 2020

Alternative Puzzle Ideas

Its been over two years since I have written a blog post ... so much has happened over this period ... and although I share our journey on my Creative Carer page, unfortunately I haven't had a chance to keep my blog posts up to date!

In December 2018 my stepdad passed away and we brought my mum into our home to care for her. Caring for someone at mum's stage of Dementia is a 24/7 job which my partner James and I share between us.

Sadly mum's Dementia has progressed over the last two years and sometimes she didn't know who we were so I designed a selection of named T shirts which we wear every day. These T shirts really help her. 

More than ever we engage mum in activities as keeping her busy lessens her anxiety. Over the years I have had to adapt our existing crafts and puzzles and have started new, easier ones for her so I wanted to share a couple of ideas that are currently working very well for us.

Numbered Jigsaw Puzzles

My mum has always been a jigsaw puzzler and before Dementia she enjoyed 1,000 piece puzzles. Soon after her diagnosis in 2012, I could see she was struggling with her jigsaws so we went down to 500 pieces ... then 100 piece puzzles. Because 100 piece puzzles are usually for children, I designed our own jigsaws using mum's favourite things as the subject ... cats and flowers! 

I also coloured the edges of the puzzle in different colours (red and yellow sides, blue at the top & green at the bottom) to help her. I would separate the edges from the inner pieces and keep them in separate bags to lessen the number of pieces she was working with at any one time. Often I designed puzzles in four sections so she could work on just a quarter of the puzzle at a time. 

But even with these puzzles and methods, the 100 pc jigsaws became too difficult for her and in 2018 we turned to 35 piece special Dementia puzzles. I'm sad to say she began to struggle with these too and we stopped jigsaws all together when they became too frustrating and upsetting for her.

In 2020 I had an idea to number the puzzle pieces ... first starting with 35 piece puzzles and numbering the front of the puzzle piece and where it sat on the board.

I soon realised if the number wasn't on the puzzle piece mum would instinctively turn it over to look for the number so I began numbering the backs which meant the picture wasn't defaced. Mum took to this numbering method immediately so I dug out her 100 piece puzzles from the loft and started numbering them too!

I use canvas painting boards that are the perfect size for 100 pc puzzles. If you are in the UK, you can find them at The Works. They are also available on Amazon (the boards are 16 inches x 20 inches).

To start with I glue down the edges on the board with PVA glue to create a fixed frame.

I then put the jigsaw together and lift each piece and draw round the shape where the piece sits. Finally, I number the back of each puzzle piece together with the place it sits on the board.

Yes it is a time consuming process making these!! 

But ... the benefits for mum (and James & I) are immense. Mum will happily puzzle again all by herself! This gives James & I a little respite to do some chores or just step away knowing mum is content with a jigsaw. 

Mum is so proud of herself and absolutely loves her puzzles again which is wonderful to see. I have made 6 different ones ... it takes her about 20 minutes to complete one 100 pc puzzle (actually she only has 66 pieces to place as the 34 edge pieces are glued to the board). Mum does these puzzles over and over ... they are like a new puzzle to her every time, bless her.

This is a puzzle I designed for mum years ago on PhotoBox (100 pcs). It has coloured edges and I designed it in 4 different sections ... but with the numbering method she manages to complete the whole puzzle on her own without the sections being separated. What a result!!

Video of mum in number-puzzle action!

Velcro Puzzles

This is another puzzle idea I recently came up with and they have been a big hit with mum! Even 'Mittens' seems to like them!

I use canvas painting boards, same as the ones I use for the numbered puzzles. 

I print off images (from Google images), laminate them and cut them out

I then draw round the shapes on the board. I number/name the shape on the board and put a sticker with the corresponding number on the back of the laminate shape

Finally I apply a small piece of velcro on each piece and on the board. This means the pieces don't slip off the board and we can tilt it up so mum doesn't have to bend over.

For this puzzle I coloured around the shapes with water colour crayons.

Water colour crayons can be brushed over with water to blend and soften the colours. 

Here is mum working on her velcro puzzle ...

And here is the finished puzzle!

I believe it is extremely important to provide those with memory problems meaningful activities that are pitched at the right level for their abilities.

Video of Mum in velcro-puzzle action!

I really hope these two alternative puzzle ideas will be helpful for others who are finding traditional jigsaws just too challenging to enjoy.


  1. I'm SO happy to see you back, Heather! So many wonderful ideas rolled into one post. Your photo tutorials help so very much. May God continue to bless you as you take care of your sweet mum.

  2. Thank you so much for your kind comment x

  3. Thank you Heather, I have tried the numbering puzzle pieces, it certainly worked for mum. I am also keen to try the Velcro. Thanks for spending the time to show us the details. Many Thanks Linda Bright x

  4. Awww thank you so much for letting me know this worked for your mum Linda! So sorry I have only just seen your comment!!