Just like so many, when Jane Snyder’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she and her family lived through years of denial before accepting the diagnosis. And when the realization finally happened, the Ladue native became proactive in her relationship with her mother, searching for ways to hold onto the connection.
“I was living in Europe, and my father—who is 88—was her caregiver, along with my sister-in-law, who is a wonderful gal,” Snyder explains. “I would fly over to help, and with every trip, I would find it harder and harder to communicate with her and to find an activity that we could connect with for even a short period of time.”
It was after a trip to Paris that Snyder had a revelation: “My mother never did puzzles,” she notes, “but I brought back a puzzle from Paris that had 36 pieces— and a very simple theme. I tried it with her, and I saw something.” Puzzle With Me was born—not just for Alzheimer’s patients but for anyone with dementia or any kind of memory disorder. “It took me about a year to refine it, and I ended up with a 12-piece puzzle— made of 3-millimeter-thick cardboard and large enough that a person can handle them on their own. I picked nine images that were ‘mature,’ because these people are not children. They are people who are aging and hopefully, aging with grace.”
The puzzles feature intentional themes devised to stir up memories, re-establish connection, and create conversation and comfort. Images include a dog, windmill, piano, the Statue of Liberty with an American flag, an Asian garden and a tractor.
“The dog is holding a leash, which could lead to: Would you like to take a walk? That’s how the images are construed—not to just talk about the picture but to have many multiple facets to discuss,” Snyder says. “It is very costly to do custom photos for families, but that’s where I will eventually go.”
According to Snyder, Puzzle With Me is the only product endorsed by Alzheimer’s Disease International. “It took me a year because Alzheimer’s Disease International has never done this before,” she says. “This is the global foundation, and it manages 70 countries. They really fell in love with what I was doing and understood that I’m all about quality of life and trying to change the face of dementia—that it doesn’t have to be scary. There are things you can do, to engage, to reconnect and to communicate. Of course, I give money back to them, which is my pleasure—and the beauty of that money is that it isn’t earmarked, which gives them lots of flexibility.”
Snyder points out that 5.4 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease, “and one is diagnosed every 69 seconds. And this will move to 16 million, every 33 seconds. It’s a terrible disease of the mind, and there’s no cure. The study of the brain is really still very much a mystery to us.”
Unfortunately, Snyder’s mother passed away in November, and along this journey, she has found that “my mother is your mother or someone else’s dad or uncle or grandfather, and if I can make a few people’s day a little bit better or a little more fun, that’s what it’s all about: aging with grace and dignity.”
Puzzle With Me is now available at Walgreens. For more information, visit puzzlewithme.com.