Mary Frates has always adored doing word searches, but after dementia set in as she aged, the 86-year-old found herself unable to participate in her favorite pastime.
Saddened by his grandmother's inability to tackle word searches, 17-year-old John Frates came up with a perfect – and simple – solution.
The teen from Needham, Massachusetts created a custom set of word puzzles with three key differences from normal puzzles: a bigger font, simplified words, and no more backward or diagonal answers.
While there are already word puzzle collections with larger letters for readers with poor eyesight, no one has ever modified the words to include seniors with Alzheimer's or dementia.
"Every time I showed her a new word search, her eyes lit up," John told Good News Network. "I think she likes the puzzle titled 'Vacation' the most since it brings back lots of fun memories."
Mary's reaction to the puzzles was so positive, John presented the word searches to other seniors residing at The Falls at Cordingly Dam nursing home where his grandma lives. He then conducted a scientific study on how the word searches could benefit elderly patients with dementia and presented his findings at the American College of Lifestyle Medicine 2017 Conference in October.
"The amount of interest from health and wellness professionals was surprising," says John. "Everyone was shocked by the complexity of word search books currently marketed with 'larger fonts' against the simplistic approach I took to make the game more enjoyable."
With the help of Mary's memory care community, Benchmark Senior Living, John published the puzzles into a book called "Grandma and Grandpa's Word Searches". What's even better is that all of the proceeds from the book will be donated to Alzheimer's research.
John told GNN that the best part about publishing a book was his grandmother's reaction to the finished product.
"When I showed her the book, she was really excited because she was the one who originally suggested that I publish it so other people could enjoy it, too."
"Watching the seniors succeed with my book and engage in conversations about the subject matter showed me the effect it can have on countless others, not just my grandmother," says the teen.
"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. My secondary goal is raising money for the Alzheimer's Association."
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