DECATUR, Ill. >> Throughout the day, Betty Geisler, 87, stops by a small recreational room at Glenwood Supportive Living in Mount Zion, Ill., for a bit of relaxation.
The space is filled with snacks and reading material, but that isn’t what draws her in.
Geisler’s goal is to finish the facility’s current jigsaw puzzle with other residents.
“But we don’t call it a club,” she said.
Geisler is often joined by Dennis Burleyson, 81.
“One day right after I got here and I asked, ‘Do you mind if I help,’” he said. “That’s how I got started.”
The creations are such an accomplishment that many are displayed throughout the Glenwood. The working grandfather clock and 3D ornaments are just a couple of the more unique completed works of interlocking pieces.
The puzzles may be colorful or monotone, large or small, easy or difficult.
“Everybody likes to stop and see them when they’re done,” Geisler said.
Esther McCloy, 86, moved to the Glenwood a week ago and found a comfortable place among the residents sitting at the puzzle table.
“She brought some puzzles with her,” Geisler said. “She is really good with them and she’s been helping us.”
McCloy said she’s enjoyed solving them for years. “Sometimes they are easy, sometimes they’re hard,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just the subject matter.”
Other residents only recently found the enjoyment in assembling puzzles. “When I had a young family we would put puzzles together,” Burleyson said. “But nothing regular.”
Along with the enjoyment of helping create an artistic masterpiece or kitschy wall hanging, the process of putting a puzzle together has other benefits for the residents.
“It’s calming,” McCloy said.
“And it keeps the old brain ticking,” Burleyson said.
Lenda Johnson, the Glenwood administrator, has witnessed the activity’s positive results among the residents. “It gives them something to do besides just sitting in their rooms,” she said.
According to a 2018 report in Medical Xpress, elderly who took part in puzzle activities, on average, score higher on standard tests of mental sharpness.
“That means that while they did decline over time, they did so from a higher starting point,” the study said.
“Starting from a high point will mean that the threshold at which you are considered impaired will be farther into the future,” said lead researcher Roger Staff, of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
Johnson has found other positive effects from puzzle activities. “Residents or the elderly who are isolated have a greater risk of depression,” she said. “This gets them out of their room and doing something that is tangible, and they can see and be proud of it. It keeps their minds working.”
Residents regularly stop by to add a piece to a current project, but they aren’t the only ones who enjoy puzzles. “Even some of the staff will add a piece,” Johnson said.
The puzzles have been a positive activity for the residents, and they can be an ideal icebreaker for visiting families. A children’s choir recently visited the facility and stopped by the puzzle table before they left. “Anybody who wants to help can help us,” Geisler said.
With so many hands on a project, mistakes are made. The 4-foot-tall grandfather clock is prominently displayed in the rec room, but the 600-piece one has a small, inconspicuous flaw: A single piece is missing. “That’s last thing you need is a big hole right in the middle of your puzzle,” Johnson said.
To conceal the space, Geisler used a brown marker matching the color of the clock’s wood to fill in the hole.
Not all puzzles are worthy of being displayed on the Glenwood walls or shelves. A resident may take a favorite puzzle to assemble or hang in his or her room. Other puzzles are destroyed shortly after they are finished. “Sometimes we just tear them up and throw them back in the closet,” Geisler said.