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The "Puzzler's Exchange"

Linda and Deloris puzzlingLinda Matter and her mother, Deloris Majersky, who lives at Presbyterian Homes of Bloomington are the founders of a new nonprofit organization called “Puzzler’s Exchange.” After discovering the many benefits of “puzzling”, the pair is excited to share their large piece jigsaw puzzle collection. Puzzler’s Exchange began in 2017 with 5 locations and 220 puzzles. Today, they have expanded their reach and inventory to 12 locations and over 625 large piece puzzles and hope to continue to grow!
 
Recently, we sat down with Linda to learn more and to find out what inspired the idea.
 
What inspired you to start the exchange?
We started this initiative after my mother experienced a dramatic health crisis in 2016.  I noticed that everyday physical activities, cognitive tasks and complex conversations were difficult. My mother’s social activities became virtually nonexistent, the use of her eyes for crocheting and reading was impossible, she lost her sense of taste and smell, and her mental health really deteriorated. I became her caregiver and took over the more rigorous tasks of managing her care and household.
 
So, I began searching for something enjoyable we could do together and suggested that we try a puzzle. Not only could my mother do these puzzles, but her agitation calmed tremendously as she focused on connecting the pieces. So, we spent a small fortune and ended up buying over 50 new large piece puzzles!
 
What are the benefits of large piece puzzles?
Large piece puzzles are easier to see, easier to handle, and easier on the brain for those who are living with physical and mental difficulties. Puzzling provides an informal social context to build relationships and facilitate physical, cognitive and emotional well-being and quality of life for those individuals and families dealing with complex health related concerns. These puzzles provide enough challenge and stimulation without being overwhelming, which helps build self-confidence.
 
How do the puzzles encourage socialization?
It was in the midst of my mother’s two hospital stays and a three week stay in respite that I realized the power of puzzles for those living with difficult and complex health conditions. She took her puzzles with her and would set one out in a common area. Others would also come around to engage with the puzzles and it was there that my mother rekindled her social relationships.
 
When she moved to Presbyterian Homes of Bloomington in March of 2017, she and her new group of puzzling friends completed over 80 puzzles in less than four months! My mom and I had many conversations about the significance of what was happening for her and others participating in the puzzling. 
 
During these conversations, we suspected there was a need for others dealing with complex health issues to have a fresh supply of puzzles regularly. 
 
How does it work?
Each month we deliver and distribute an average of 15 puzzles to 12 locations, six of which are Presbyterian Homes & Services communities. Our goal is to provide one year of unduplicated puzzles at each site. We are currently developing our memory care puzzle inventory, and another five sites will be added soon.
 
Senior housing and care centers are reporting an increase in the number of people participating and the number of puzzles being completed. We consider both of these as signs of success of the exchange, along with our growth in participating locations and puzzle inventory. 
 
What are some success stories you’ve heard from those participating in the exchange?
Large piece puzzlePeople experience different benefits from doing the puzzles, depending on their challenges. Over time, people can actually experience an increase in the number and complexity of puzzles they are doing. I have heard over and over that people (both staff and residents) absolutely love the puzzles, and very much look forward to receiving another set of puzzles each month. Most sites have commented on a noticeable increase in the residents’ interest in puzzling. One staff person emailed me and said that her puzzle tables were exploding!
 
One staff person shared a story about a group of four memory care residents who sat for 45 minutes visiting with each other while working a puzzle – they didn’t find a single piece, but they were interested, focused and having a nice conversation. Another memory care resident has been putting together some of the more difficult puzzles in our inventory, so that has taught me not to assume anything about someone’s capability just because they are managing certain challenges. Another resident shared with me that her Alzheimer’s doctors are strongly encouraging her to do jigsaw puzzles.
 
At one site, teamwork has become important to the residents as they take on different parts of the puzzle – one person likes to do the sky and water sections, while others enjoy the more defined parts of the puzzle. At another site, a woman who has struggled with socializing has actually found someone with whom she enjoys puzzling. 
 
What are the benefits for family members or caregivers?
Caregivers and family members are also participating in the puzzle exchange as a way to spend time with their family members who are struggling with complex health issues, and as an activity to do while caring for their loved ones. One woman who is caring for her mother for many hours a day, does puzzles with the puzzling group when her mother is resting or sleeping. One man who has been a caregiver for his mother, has been spending many hours every day with his mother doing puzzles as she recovers in a transitional care unit. I was able to watch her recovery over a month as they completed between 25-30 puzzles. They are planning to become participants in the exchange when she returns home. The whole family puzzles, so this is going to become a way for them to continue to spend time together as they care for their mother.
 
What is your long term goal for the Puzzler’s Exchange?
Our long term goal is to become a mail order exchange, so that we can assist as many people as possible across multiple service sectors, such as those who are hospitalized, those who are affected by mental health, addiction, developmental challenges, and families managing complex health conditions of a loved one.
 
Our goal is to also build our memory care puzzle inventory, to serve a wide range of individuals and families living with these challenges.
 
How can people sign up for the exchange?
All participants, whether individuals, families, senior housing, or health-related organizations can sign up by contacting me at linmatter@yahoo.com. Once our website is developed, participants will be able to register on the website.

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