Puzzles To Remember

By: Max Wallack

Wellness , Caretaker

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability. Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is the most common form of demencia that gradually gets worse over time causing problems with memeory, thinking and behavior. Specifically it is caused by damage to nerve cells in the brain, called neurons. As a result of the damage, neurons can no longer function normally and may die. This, in turn, can lead to changes in one’s memory, behavior and ability to think clearly. 

Every 67 seconds, somebody in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease and is the 6th leading cause of death. Alzheimer's currently has no cure, but research continues and treatments for symptoms are available. Although current treatments cannot stop Alzheimer's from progressing, they can temporarily improve the quality of life by slowing the symptoms. Today, large efforts are being made worldwide to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, and prevent it from developing.  

It’s easy to consider these facts as just more statistics until it happens to somebody you know. Currently in the United States, there are about 1.4-million child caregivers under the age of 18 who struggle to understand how to deal with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

When I was very young, my great grandmother was my best friend. We played together like kids, and would share toys and compete for my parents’ attention. There were two sides to Great Grams: child and adult. She had Alzheimer’s disease, and we never knew how she was going to act. Sometimes I acted as the adult, looking out for her and making sure she didn’t get into trouble – other times, she was the adult, giving me advice and protecting me. As time progressed, however, she became the child more often than not, and I took on the role of caregiver.

As a result of the cognitive and behavioral effects of Alzheimer’s, my grandmother would become paranoid and restless, suddenly and without warning. She made several attempts to escape from our family home during the night, so my family and I began to take shifts to man the door to her room. During the last year of Great Grams’s life, she was in and out of the hospital and I noticed during my visits with her that many other patients with similar ailments were much calmer when they worked on jigsaw puzzles. After she passed away in 2007, I founded my nonprofit Puzzles To Remember with the goal of providing free puzzles senior care facilities.

Jigsaw puzzles have a calming effect on dementia patients, and can even slow the progression of the cognitive damage that these patients often face. Through my organization, I collaborated with puzzle manufacturers and began placing collection bins around my community. In 2010, I partnered with Springbok Puzzles to create simpler puzzles with bigger pieces to better meet the needs of the elderly. To date, I have provided over 44,000 puzzles to facilities around the world!

In June 2013 I co-authored a children’s book called Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator?: An Explanation of Alzheimer's Disease for Children. The book explains, in a child-friendly way, the struggles that both patients with demencia and their loved ones may face. The book is currently available in 8 languages!

One of the most rewarding parts of my work is the feedback I receive from patients and families who have been helped by Puzzles To Remember and my book. In honor of these heros I created an area on my website called Letters of Thanks where these letters can be seen. 

The general public can help support this project the following ways:

PRIORITY #1: Set Up a Puzzle Collection

Collecting jigsaw puzzles to donate to the elderly is a great way to help fight Alzheimer’s and dementia.


PRIORITY #2: Donate Puzzles or Funds

Since we are a nonprofit organization, Puzzles To Remember depends on donations of both puzzles and funds to continue with our mission of preventing and easing the symptoms of dementia.


PRIORITY #3: Awareness Is Key To Support

Educating yourself and others about the devistating effects of dimencia as well as knowing the facts and figures is the first step in offering support.


PRIORITY #4: Help younger kids understand Alzheimer's Disease

My book is a great way for younger kids to understand the issue


PRIORITY #5: TEACHER'S GUIDE

Developed as a curriculum for high school students


Team Members

  • Max Wallack

    Founder

    Max Wallack graduated from Boston University and worked as a Research Intern in the Molecular Psychiatry and Aging Laboratory in the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at Boston University School of Medicine. He is currently a student at Harvard Medical School. His great grandmother, Gertrude, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Max is the founder of PUZZLES TO REMEMBER -- a project that provides puzzles to nursing homes and veterans institutions that care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients.

Impact

Discovering a cure

Feb. 24, 2016

It's bold and it's brave to say it, but I want to discover a cure for Alzheimer's disease. To do that, I opted to major in neuroscience and use the Laboratory of Molecular Psychiatry in Aging at Boston University's Alzheimer Disease Center.

One of the major problems with Alzheimer's disease is that most people get diagnosed too late, which is why I focused my studies on biomarkers.  Clinicians can use biomarkers to diagnose the disease earlier, when the disease is at the mildly symptomatic stage. In the best case scenario, we can then treat the patient with drugs that halt or reverse the neurodegredation. 

Biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease are a controversial topic though. People who oppose it argue that the expensive assessment of biomarkers is an academic exercise and do not have real clinical meaning. On the other hand, proponents believe that just knowing the disease is present offers the opportunity to take preventative steps.

Awards & Recognition

Oct. 1, 2014

In The News

Jefferson Awards: Young adults involved in public service make impression, Journal Gazette & Times-Courier, June 29, 2014. While the Jefferson Awards National Ceremony in Washington, D.C., certainly was inspiring, there was one thing that really impressed Cheryl and me. That was the number of young adults and teens who were honored for their public service. Of the 79 groups and individuals honored in the three-day event at the nation’s capital, 28 were teens or young adults under the age of 40. Read More

Four Questions with Max Wallack, Alzheimer’s Disease Puzzle-Making Prodigy, JewishBoston.com, October 1, 2013. Max Wallack of Natick is one of 10 teens from across the country who just received a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award . The $36,000 prize recognized him as an exceptional teen role model for his help in repairing the world. I spoke with the amazing 17-year-old about the non-profit he’s founded, Puzzles to Remember , that provides therapy for Alzheimer’s disease patients. Read More

"Why Did Grandmother Put Her Underwear In The Refrigerator?" by Max Wallack, brainwellness.com, July 8, 2013. The Brain Health and Wellness Center is pleased to announce that one of our favorite innovators, Max Wallack, has just published an amazing children’s book. The book is called “Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator?” and is available at Amazon.com. It is authored by Max Wallack and Carolyn Given. 50% of the profits will go to Alzheimer’s causes. Readers may recall that Max Wallack is an inventor and developer of Puzzles to Remember that he created when he was only 14, now offered for retail by Springbok. Read More

A 16-Year-Old Takes on a Disease of the Elderly, Bostonia, May 30, 2013. During spring break last March, when many students were sunning themselves on beaches or catching up on sleep, Max Wallack traveled to Los Angeles to deliver a poster presentation at the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry ’s annual conference. His subject was the role of ACE inhibitors—a class of drugs used to treat cardiovascular disease—in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Heady stuff, especially when you consider that Wallack, now a BU junior, was just 16. Read More

Caregiver Inspiration: The Power of One, CareGivers, February 2, 2013. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone remark that “one person can’t make a difference.” To the doubters I say, meet Max Wallack! A college sophomore at just 16 years of age, he has already made his mark on the world, and I’m sure it’s only the tip of the iceberg. This  extraordinary young man developed a passion for Alzheimer’s and dementia  advocacy as a young caregiver to his great-grandmother. Now, he says, it’s his calling. Read More

Max Wallack: Teen hero, Alzheimer’s activist, The Washington Times, August 20, 2012. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Some make enormous sacrifices, such as the emergency responders and civilians who did what they could to help others on 9/11. Some are everyday heroes who quietly go about their lives doing small things that make a big difference in the lives of those they touch. Maybe it’s a small donation to a charitable organization, holding the door for a stranger, or simply exchanging a smile with someone who needs it. What they all share is a uniquely American blend of optimism, determination, and refusal to take “no” for an answer. It is the spirit of all of our heroes that defines the best of what it means to be an American. Read More

KooDooZ

KooDooZ is a youth media firm which believes young people are the drivers behind popular culture and social change. They recently produced a video about Max Wallack.

Underpants In The Refrigerator?


On some days, seven-year old Julie feels like she’s living in a Fun House. Hers is a topsy-turvy world where the toaster sprouts a toothbrush, and a watermelon gets dressed up in pink underpants for Fourth of July! But on other days, Julie struggles with understanding why her Halloween trick-or-treating got cancelled, or why Grandma can’t remember her name. Julie is struggling with understanding her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease. Authors Max Wallack and Carolyn Given believe that no child is too young to learn about this disease, or how to participate in providing safe care for their loved one. Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator? is a sensitive, light-hearted children’s story that seamlessly provides its young readers with a toolbox to help them overcome their fears and frustrations. It shares easy-to-understand explanations of what happens inside the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, how to cope with gradual memory loss, with a missed holiday, or even a missing Grandma! This 40-page fully illustrated children’s book is told from a second-grader’s perspective in her own style and vocabulary, but it lovingly shares real strategies, scientific insights and lessons of dignity from which adult caregivers may also benefit.

Letters of Thanks

Here are some of the many letters of thanks and appreciation that we have received to date.


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