The Surprising Benefits of Puzzles for Seniors

senior activity, puzzles

Puzzles of all sorts are pastimes that many seniors enjoy. Not only are they fun, but they can also provide many surprising health benefits, says Janet McNemar, NHA, MBA, Executive Director at Saunders House in Wynnewood, PA. 

“There’s a real joy that comes from unplugging and focusing on a puzzle,” she says. “It helps center us, calm our minds, improve our moods and so much more.” 

Whether you prefer traditional jigsaw puzzles, wordy crossword puzzles, brain teasers like Sudoku or others, here are just a few of the many reasons why puzzles are so great for seniors. 

Boosts cognitive function.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, puzzles can boost and build up your cognitive reserve – which is sort of like a savings account for your brain. Having a healthy cognitive reserve can potentially help reduce the risk of developing dementias like Alzheimer’s disease. One study found that older adults who regularly do number or word puzzles have a brain age that’s ten years younger than their physical age.

Improves memory.

Puzzles require you to focus and concentrate, which can help you maintain things like short- and long-term memory. As we get older, we generally have fewer opportunities to concentrate, as we’re no longer going to school or actively in the work force. Puzzles are a great way to capture that concentration and bring focus to your daily life. Since they require a participant to concentrate on very specific tasks, parts of your brain are engaged that may not be otherwise. Jigsaw puzzles, for example, are excellent at helping build short-term memory since they require focus on remembering details like colors, shapes and patterns. Crossword puzzles require the use of recall (remembering something that was previously observed or learned), which is incredibly important for seniors to practice. 

Relieves stress.

Any activity we enjoy can reduce stress, but puzzles are especially effective because the concentration and focus act as a sort of meditation. By actively working to solve a problem or search for a solution, other thoughts and distractions are pushed aside, which can help calm our brains, stop our worries and immediately drop the levels of cortisol in our bodies. Another way they reduce stress is by providing little “wins” or morale-boosters when something is successfully solved. Think of suddenly coming up with an answer to a particularly challenging crossword, or finding the next piece in a jigsaw puzzle. That little boost of dopamine can be hugely beneficial.

Improves problem-solving skills.

Ultimately, every puzzle is a problem that is waiting to be solved. And problem-solving skills are crucial for helping challenge yourself mentally. Having good problem-solving skills helps seniors overcome conflict, deal with changes and improve their cognitive function. Puzzles don’t have to be complicated in order to help with problem-solving. Any degree will engage the mind because it requires mental effort to solve the problem. 

Boosts moods.

As mentioned before, solving puzzles release little bursts of dopamine in the brain – a chemical that helps produce happiness. Everyone enjoys feeling like they’ve accomplished something, especially the more challenging it is. Studies have shown that this sense of accomplishment and fulfillment is beneficial to seniors of all ages and all levels of ability. It’s suggested that individuals with dementia who accomplish tasks successfully have a better sense of self, better health and better overall well-being. 

Encourages social interaction.

Puzzles can be solitary endeavors, but they can also be a great opportunity to spend time with others. Being social and nurturing those connections is essential for good mental health. Puzzles, surprisingly, offer a chance for you to bond with other people, especially if you use your combined brainpower to solve a particularly challenging issue. There are many different clubs that you can join that will connect you with other people to play games together. 

Best Puzzles for Seniors

In order to get the greatest benefit of puzzles, experts encourage seniors to mix it up and do a variety of different puzzles. Think of it like exercise – if you do the exact same routine every day, your body will become complacent and you won’t maximize the benefits. Here are some examples of the best types of puzzles for seniors that you should consider trying: 

Jigsaw puzzles. These are a great favorite because you can complete them at your own pace and they come with varying degrees of difficulty. Plus, you can find all sorts of puzzles to meet your own personal preferences, interests and hobbies. 

Sudoku. Sudoku is a logic-based puzzle in which players insert the numbers one to nine into a grid consisting of nine squares in such a way that every number appears once in each horizontal line, vertical line, and square. If that sounds challenging, that’s because it is. There are six different difficulty levels that will challenge everyone from complete novices to dedicated masters. 

Word searches. These puzzles help increase your vocabulary and also improve concentration (since you need to focus your attention on deciphering words from a seemingly random group of letters). These, too, range in difficulty and you can often buy puzzle books that range from simple to incredibly challenging.  

Crosswords. These puzzles run the gamut from easy to nearly impossible. They’re a great combination of creative thinking, recall and knowledge-building. There are many free options available online, but you can also purchase books that are baked on different themes, interests or whatever else piques your interest. 

Vocabulary games. Puzzles like these involve some type of word association, such as picking out which word doesn’t match in a group. It requires logic, knowledge, problem solving and many other brain functions. Other vocabulary games include word jumbles (where you’re given a bunch of different letters and have to form a certain number of words from them), word association and even crossword puzzles, in a sense. 

As you can see, puzzles provide a variety of different mental, emotional and physical benefits for seniors. Not only that, but they are incredibly entertaining and are a great way to pass the time either by yourself or with others. With so many different options available, seniors will easily be able to find different types of puzzles that challenge them, entertain them, enrich them and provide hours of delight. 

We encourage you to call us with any general questions you might have and to stay current on a variety of senior health and caregiver topics by viewing the latest articles on our website.

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, “The Surprising Benefits of Puzzles for Seniors,” we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us in our comments section.

Discover Our Healthy Tradition of Care and Wellness

Located adjacent to Lankenau Medical Center, Saunders House – part of Main Line Senior Care Alliance – has a celebrated tradition of providing exceptional care and services to seniors and their families. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue.

Today, Saunders House offers a range of services, including short-term rehabilitation, traditional nursing care, restorative care, memory care, respite care, for individuals with visual impairments – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing.

For more information on Saunders House, our short-term rehabilitation program and other professional services, please call us today at 610.658.5100 [JS1] or contact us online.

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Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Saunders House and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.


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