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Sacramento-area man with dementia gets international recognition as puzzle ambassador

Sacramento County man with dementia becomes puzzle ambassador for UK-based company
Sacramento County man with dementia becomes puzzle ambassador for UK-based company 02:48

ROSEMONT — A resident of Sacramento County's Rosemont community is defying the odds of a debilitating disease with an unexpected approach.

George Rummel, 84, has dementia but finds comfort and strength through a unique hobby: puzzling. So much so that his new activity is getting him international recognition.

Rummel has an eye for detail. It was that skill that he took around the world working as an engineer constructing hydroelectric plants.

He retired from SMUD in 2006. Several years later, the early signs of dementia started. The progression of the disease led to him often feeling confused, scared and sometimes angry.

Beth Winnett, a family friend, said Rummel's doctor suggested he try low-stress activities that require concentration. That's where his love for puzzling began.

"It sort of like gives his brain an opportunity to go into one direction instead of firing in millions of different directions," Winnett said.

Being an excellent notetaker as a former engineer, Rummel wrote notes on one of his first puzzle sets as a strategy to assemble it more efficiently. It ended in catastrophe, ultimately ruining the puzzle.

Rummel's daughter took to social media to describe the incident and it caught the attention of UK-based company Wentworth Puzzles.

Touched by his story, not only did the company send him dozens of new puzzles, but they also named him a Wentworth Puzzles ambassador – someone who helps share the joy of jigsaw puzzles with the world.

"They wanted to incorporate it in their ambassador program because of his dementia and how puzzles help with their dementia," Winnett said.

Nearly seven million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's or related dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

"Puzzles and brain games are a great way to engage your brain in new and different ways," said Dr. Elizabeth Edgerly with the Alzheimer's Association.

Dr. Edgerly added that puzzling is one of ten ways to keep your brain sharp. In Rummel's case, it is a great coping skill.

"If you're a singer, you learn a new song and read music, and if you love puzzles, you do puzzles," Dr. Edgerly said. "It's all part of keeping your brain healthy."

Dr. Edgerly also noted that social engagement around an activity like puzzling is even better, something Rummel is already one step ahead with.

"You think it's easier just to hide them but they really need to get out and be a part of society," Winnett said.

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