Photo: Mary and John Frates. Source: Good News Network.
Mary Pegg Frates, 86, used to herself occupied with solving word search puzzles. However, it became increasingly difficult to enjoy it when the letters became too small for her to read. Seventeen-year-old John Frates knew that he had to step up and find a solution for his grandmother.
His touching solution? Frates published a word search puzzle book especially made for his grandmother with Alzheimer's disease, just so she could keep doing what she enjoyed.
What he did to modify the game
As his grandmother’s memory and cognitive skills declined, the traditional store-bought word search became stressful for the 86-year old. It was heartbreaking for John to see his grandmother have a difficult time, so he took matters into his own hands by designing a puzzle targeted for people with Alzheimer’s. So, what did the 17-year old change to make word searches easier? By creating a bigger font, using simplified words, and removing the backward and diagonal answers.
Being able to finish a word search puzzle on her own gave her grandmother a sense of independence and comfort. Instead of her constantly saying, “Help me with this, John,” the puzzle became a joyful pastime once again.
Between balancing school work, baseball and football practice, and his activities with friends, John would continue to create new word searches for his grandmother. It was everything for John to see his grandmother’s eyes light up when he would hand her a new set. This only drove him to create more, just for her.
Word searches for people with Alzheimer’s
His grandmother’s favorite word search puzzle is the set called “Vacation.” Not only did this one remind her of some memories, but she also shared them with her grandson. The crosswords do more than just make it easier for her, they also allow her to relate to them.
It wasn’t only Mary Pegg Frates who was happy with John’s gift; it also elicited positive responses when they shared it with other elderly residents of The Falls at Cordingly Dam nursing home where Mary resides. John was so motivated by their responses that he conducted his own research on the benefits of word searches for elderly patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. The findings of his study were presented at the American College of Lifestyle Medicine 2017 Conference in October.
Mary Pegg knew that other people with Alzheimer’s would enjoy it as well. Feeling inspired, she proposed to her grandson to compile his puzzles in a book. So, imagine her excitement when the book was published!
With the help of Benchmark Senior Living (Mary’s memory care community), “Grandma & Grandpa’s Word Searches” by John Frates was printed and distributed on Amazon.
Other brain stimulating games
Aside from word searches, people with Alzheimer’s disease can enjoy other brain-stimulating activities. With the disease still remaining incurable, the symptoms only progress and may increasingly get frustrating for your loved ones as their abilities decline. Although no research has found that it can delay the spread of Alzheimer’s disease, meaningful activities can improve the quality of your loved one’s life.
- Reminiscing: Encourage your loved ones to talk about past memories, whether it was their first love, a favorite road trip, an embarrassing moment at work, or their favorite pet. Although this is a passive activity, it may still be upsetting for them when they are dealing with memory loss and confusion.
- Scrapbook or watch family videos: This is another way to evoke nostalgic memories with your loved ones. Sorting and looking through old pictures and family can be entertaining for both your loved ones and for the caregivers. Try not to take it personally when your loved ones start to forget you or other relatives who once were familiar. Offer her a brief and simple explanation when correcting her.
- Card games for the memory: Keep them occupied with mix and match card games. You can purchase colorful cards from a store or you can make your own. Choose pictures online and print out two sets of them. Cut them in the same size and shape. Glue the picture on one side of a thick paper and keep the other side blank.
- Jigsaw puzzles: Solving jigsaw puzzles can be a challenge, depending on the stages of the person. But, it helps if you give the pieces in sections, one a time—like you can start first with the pieces for the corners and edges. Also, be mindful when choosing the puzzle; start with smaller pieces, and if it is still suitable for the person’s capacity, you can increase the number. So, if your loved ones appreciate art, choose a puzzle set with a picture of their favorite painting or sculpture.
- Playing musical instruments or listening to music: Television is not the ideal activity for people with Alzheimer’s as it can sometimes be too overwhelming. Play some personalized music for your loved ones instead. Music helps boost brain activity, improve communication, and evoke personal and emotional memories. Since music is stored in many parts of the brain, music is an excellent way to connect with people who have Alzheimer’s.
- Engage them in chores that give them control: Allow them to help around with the household chores. Assign them to wash the dishes, set the table, clear the table, organize their work space, arrange the flowers, or bake a simple recipe. Allow them to make decisions on basic things like picking out vegetables in the grocery or let them teach you a recipe they still remember. Your loved ones need to feel purpose and usefulness, and with activities like these, it could give them a sense of independence. Though you do not want to hover over them too much, make sure that these activities are safe for them. Keep in mind that Alzheimer’s disease affect vision and balance, among others.
The final take-away
The things people with Alzheimer’s disease used to be good at or once considered trivial may become too difficult and stressful for them. They may eventually become disinterested with the activities, and although this may frustrate you both, as their family, you need to be patient and continue to support and encourage them. Just like what John Frates did, help modify the activities to make it more manageable, simple, and yet stimulating at the same time.
What started out as an act of love for his grandmother, turned into a way to raise money for a non-profit organization. All proceeds are and will be donated to a non-profit organization that focuses on Alzheimer’s research and will help people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers as well.
“My goal for the book is to help as many seniors and their families as possible, giving them a fun and rewarding activity that helps relieve stress.” Frates says, “My secondary goal is raising money for the Alzheimer’s Association.”
Grandma & Grandpa’s Word Searches contains 27 sets of word search puzzles. Since the day of its release in September 2017, it has gained roughly $1,200. There is still a stock available on Amazon.
In recognition of his efforts, Frates was presented with the Young Entrepreneur Award from the Needham-Newton Regional Chamber.
Piecing together the word search puzzle allowed John and Mary Pegg to spend more time together. Even with her declining memory, the 86-year old Mary Pegg will always be grateful for her grandson’s gift.