Jane Synder has had more than her fair share of caretaking for people. In addition to struggling with an undiagnosed mother with Alzheimer’s, she is a widow twice over. When her second husband passed she was left with three boys to rear and a mother to care for. Quickly Jane learned that every second of her day counted, and she had no time to waste. In an attempt to find a way for her sons to connect again with their grandmother, and give herself a much deserved ten-minute break she created a 12-piece puzzle activity for everyone in the family to enjoy.
Puzzle With Me is a collection of jig saw puzzles that act as therapeutic tools to help caregivers connect and communicate with those that have Alzheimer’s or dementia. Besides aiding individuals, Puzzle With Me also gives back by donating 10% of all sales to Alzheimer’s Disease International.
Recently Alzheimers.net had the opportunity to speak to Jane about her experience with Alzheimer’s. As she tells it, she always didn’t have the answer to every problem but she certainly had the love and passion to take each day in stride… and still does. Her bravery and perseverance is certainly something we all can admire.
Alzheimers.net: When did your family first learn of your mother’s Alzheimer’s?
Jane: My family is very traditional. My mother probably had Alzheimer’s ten years plus and we denied it for most of those years. In fact, later when she was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s some of my family couldn’t say that word—we weren’t allowed to say that word. With that word comes a stigmatism—and it’s not perceived as a good thing.
What activities did you like doing with your mom once she was diagnosed?
It depended upon which stage of Alzheimer’s she was in, but that’s why I developed Puzzle With Me. I found a way to connect with her—and by the way my mother was never a puzzler. The puzzles became great activities that didn’t take a great amount of time, just 15 to 20 minutes. That’s all the attention time she had. To have a period of time to enjoy without being exhausted or frustrated—it was simply amazing.
I see Alzheimer’s patients all the time that don’t have the words to communicate. And with that comes hostility because it’s so hard to be expressive. So it’s important to find an activity that’s enjoyable, and one in which they can express themselves. And the puzzles I make are cross-generational. Finally, my children could spend time with their grandmother without bringing up awkward conversation like, “What did you eat last night?” Or her asking the same questions like, “Who are you? And what are you doing?” It was the same questions she had asked us a million times, which would push them away.
What made you turn the puzzles into a business?
I knew that my mother was your mother and my uncle was your uncle. It wasn’t just about my mom—Alzheimer’s effects everybody. That was the ‘Aha!’ moment—the second I realized it wasn’t just about me.
This is not a disease that is discriminatory. It’s not male. It’s not female. It’s not black. It’s not white. It’s not Indian. It’s not Hispanic. It doesn’t matter.
Why do the puzzles only have twelve pieces?
Because of the amount of attention span they require and the capability of accomplishment. The puzzles are meant to be done together and the point is to finish.
If you go into a resident home, you may see a puzzle on the table that has a thousand pieces. There is no way someone with Alzheimer’s or memory challenges or autism could do it—it’s the caregiver doing it. Having a lower number of pieces encourages those with brain challenges to engage and solve the puzzle.
What is the significance of the images chosen on each puzzle?
I tried to come up with images that were universal. I also tried to pick images that could create many different conversations, not just one. The puzzles’ images are mature, respectful and dignified. I will never put out an imaging that says ‘For A Child’ because Alzheimer’s patients are not children. I think people should have the opportunity to age with grace.
Where can people buy your puzzles?
You can buy them online at puzzlewithme.com. We are also in several mainstream catalogues. You can buy them at The Alzheimer’s Store, eNasco, Puzzle Warehouse and Amazon. And just about anyone can get a hold of me [Laughs] I’m happy to talk to anybody.
How did your business become connected to the Alzheimer’s Disease International?
I have the only puzzle endorsed by the Alzheimer’s Disease International, which is an International Federation of Alzheimer associations that encompasses seventy plus countries. It was very, very difficult to attain. Puzzle With Me has to hold itself to certain standards.
And don’t some of the proceeds of this product go directly to the Alzheimer’s Disease International?
Absolutely. And we do it differently. We don’t donate every three months and it’s not a promotion. We do it every single day.
And why is giving back important to you?
My goodness gracious. It’s important to get all cultures involved with Alzheimer’s. It’s everywhere in the world. It’s important to me that we recognize this as a disease. It’s important to me that it has a color. Everyone knows pink stands for breast cancer. If I walk up to anyone on the streets and ask, “What is the color of Alzheimer’s?” or “Why is the month September important?” Nine out of ten people won’t know.
Did you know that Alzheimer’s raised 500 million dollars and breast cancer raised 600 million dollars this year and yet 99 out of 100 people diagnosed with breast cancer live. No one survives Alzheimer’s. Everyone diagnosed dies. And every 60 seconds someone in America is diagnosed… Sorry, I get really passionate when talking about this…
Do you fear you may get Alzheimer’s one day?
Absolutely. It’s a concern I have for everyone.
Are you doing any prevention exercises?
I take care of myself. I exercise five days a week. I take fish oil but… still. I believe in living today.
What advice do you have for those caring for loved one’s with Alzheimer’s?
Take care of yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself you can’t take care of somebody else.
To learn more about Jane Snyder’s Puzzle With me endeavor go to her website puzzlewithme.com.
Jane Snyder currently resides in Park City, Utah.
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