Mom, Puzzles and a Little Peace of Mind

Herman Wouk. Ken Follett. David Baldacci. Barack Obama. What do these authors have in common? They have all kept my elderly mother Ginny company at one time or another. Books have been Ginny’s go-to hobby for as long as I can remember. She really is a bookworm. She’ll check out three or four books at the library and swap them out in less then two weeks for three or four more. It’s impressive.

She also subscribes to half a dozen magazines. Did I mention she’s 87?

Even with all that, I’m still on a mission to see if I can find more opportunities for a little mental stimulus, particularly when Ginny’s sitting at home. I think her prison comment resonated with me when we took her car away. I had once made a halfhearted attempt to check out her town’s senior programs online, but found only Pickleball, Silver Sneakers and Volleyball. I had been hoping for a drawing or painting class.

Ginny must have been on my same wavelength because she called with her own idea.

“Betsy took me to the library and I checked out a book. Have you ever heard of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi?” she queried.

“I have not” I respond.

“Well, it’s fascinating and it’s good for your mind and I remember you doing it, so I thought I might try it.” (She came to visit me about a year ago and I took her to one of my Tai Chi classes. She only watched, but apparently, it made an impression.)

I seriously applaud her interest. On one hand, she had her horrible experience dreaming about an unwelcome visitor in her home (see past post ) and then she turns around and wants to try Tai Chi. If there is one thing I have learned over the past year, you cannot pigeon hole the behaviors of an aging parent. One development or change does not necessarily write off the potential for new goals or activities. The pace can ebb, then flow again.

“Well, maybe I could teach her a couple of easy moves” I think to myself, but the thought of her practicing by herself scares me. She could fall so easily. I do not want to squash her spirit though so I tell her she should absolutely read the book and maybe I can show her some moves.

In the meantime, when I had been investigating home care, their website had mentioned hobbies. That stuck with me. Companions could assist clients with their favorite activities. The hobbies they listed were scrapbooking, games and gardening. I think about mom’s hobbies. With no more art group, reading’s about it.

I am not sure why puzzles suddenly pop into my head. There is no precedent associating mom with puzzles other than she did a couple of them with my son Will once when he was young.

Ravensburger Photo

I instantly love this idea. I visualize buying a card table where the puzzle can sit while being completed. There may be space in her bedroom by the windows for natural light. It could also be put in her “office” (the second bedroom) but its dark in there.

Suddenly, I can’t wait for a trip over there to get set-up. I go online and order a 500 piece Ravensburger puzzle. The scene is a marina with a small mountain in the background and brightly painted small boats in the foreground. It actually reminds me of a painting by her dad.

Lots of activities can keep your mind active. For example, read books and magazines. Play games. Take or teach a class. Learn a new skill or hobby. These types of mentally stimulating activities have not been proven to prevent serious cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s, but…

Scientists think that such activities may protect the brain by establishing “cognitive reserve.” They may help the brain become more adaptable in some mental functions, so it can compensate for age–related brain changes and health conditions that affect the brain.

The National Institute on Aging “Cognitive Health and Older Adults”
Two Weeks Later

We drive over and our project that day is to set up her puzzle. I go back and forth on telling her what I have bought, or just surprising her instead. Since we need to set up a card table on a semi-permanent basis, I share the news with her.

“Oh my friend Bill works on puzzles all the time. It’s the only thing he does over the winter” she shares.

“Well, there you go, you can start to talk to him about puzzles when he calls” I say enthusiastically.

“Where do you think we should put a table mom? Over here, in the sunlight?” I point to a corner spot in her living room.

“No, I think the office will be fine” she replies.

As I had mentioned, she keeps the blinds closed in there because people walk past that window, but maybe she’ll be willing to open the blinds just while working on the puzzle.

Dennis, Betsy and I go to Target and find a card table and four chairs in a single set. Perfect. She doesn’t need all four chairs, but we can use two of them at home.

We arrive at her doorstep with the large box of tables and chairs and the puzzle. We set up the table, place two chairs by it, open the puzzle box and spread out the pieces. I open the blinds. She turns on a lamp and tells me to close the blinds.

Personally, I find it difficult to distinguish colors with dim lamp lighting, but I don’t say anything. Dennis sits at the table. He wants to start the puzzle with her, launch her into the project, but she’s having none of it. She won’t sit. So Dennis gets up and walks away. Mom picks up the extra chair, folds it and places it in a corner.

We are confused by this behavior, but remain silent. When we arrive the next day, I see a drink coaster on the table. She has sorted through some of the pieces and there are separate groups of “blue sky” pieces and “water” pieces. I smile. It’s not that the idea has been rejected, she just wants to put it together herself.  “And I should have put that together myself” I realize. She’s going to do things her way. I find this oddly comforting. That mind still seems pretty strong to me.

One comment

  1. Such a beautiful write-up on your mom’s progress. It truly warms my heart and I appreciate being taken along your journey.


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