Lessons Learned: Puzzles and Brains – Puzzles Part 2

Last week I talked about jigsaw puzzles and relating it to writing. Tonight, I’ll write how puzzles helped my mom. Along with my sisters, we consider puzzles as a crucial part to her recovering from a stroke.

Our mom had a massive stroke in October, 2010. She is obviously a tough spirit because she survived when the doctors didn’t think she’d make it. After the hospital, we placed her in transitional care, at a nursing home, where she stayed for 100 days to recover and learn simple tasks like walking, eating, and taking care of herself. We knew that being with her, supporting her, and helping with her recovery was important. We knew that “working” her brain was a way we could help. What better way than to teach her how to do something she loved: jigsaw puzzles.

Before the stroke our mom had been proficient at putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle. After the stroke, she couldn’t put two pieces together. I believe we started with a 10-piece puzzle. We showed her how to look at the different pieces, how one curve could fit into another. She had to feel each piece to figure out the shape and then feel the edges in the puzzle to determine where it should go. We taught her how to look at the picture and try matching the detail with another piece. We showed her how to turn her head to look to her right to find pieces waiting to be placed. At the time, she couldn’t see anything on her right side. As she put it, “It’s blank.”

Once she accomplished the 10-piece puzzle, we continued to move upward. Next were 25 pieces, 50 pieces, and then 100 pieces. All of this took time, but she did it. Today, four and a half years later, she spends her time working on 1,000-piece puzzles again. Those puzzles keep her occupied and sharpen her mind.

If we hadn’t taught her how to put the pieces together, I don’t think our mom would be able to work on puzzles today or do other things that require detail. So keep in mind, when a person you know is recovering from a brain injury, like a stroke, find something they had enjoyed doing. Teach them how to do it once again. Start with basics and then advance in difficulty. You’ll be amazed at what the mind can do. We were amazed, seeing her progress and working on those puzzles once again.


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