My cousin not long ago asked me if I'd be able to make a Fidget Blanket for her MIL, who is living with them right now and suffering from Alzheimer's - I of course said "Of course!" because that is what family is for! And then set about promptly trying to figure out what a Fidget Blanket was and how one might make it. Here's my first attempt:
|I know, I know - it's kinda busy. I might have gotten a little carried away.|
Fidget, or Sensory, Blankets, are helpful for a few different kinds of folks: people with autism, ADHD, hyposensitivity and other sensory processing disorders, and dementia like that related to Alzheimer's. For these folks, fidgets serve many purposes:
1. they encourage motor activities that wake up the brain and allow users to focus on intellectual activities like listening in school or holding a conversation;
2. they give safe options for soothing repetitive motion and can mitigate the restlessness or anxiety that people with these conditions experience;
3. they provide a gentle way to remember or re-learn common tasks like using buttons or zippers or pockets;
4. they can provide sensory stimulation through different texture and motor experiences in a controlled way;
5. They can be themed to help provide reminders to the users of who they are, what hobbies they have enjoyed, the family that is around them, even their own names;
6. Some things I read suggested that when higher cognitive functions start failing, touch is something that begins to take primacy again, like it did when you were first forming your neural networks as a baby, and also trying to stuff entire wooden blocks into your mouth (probably.) . Exploring touch becomes much more significant to folks with late-stage dementia.
6. They're kinda fun. I played with mine sort of absently while I was watching the end of a Cubs game, and I can definitely see the appeal.
So after a 2 hour bender in the Joann's gewgaws and gadgets aisles, I returned home with a pile of fasteners, frippery, and fabrics of different textures, in the hopes of creating something that might spark some interest in my cousin's MIL, whose name is Carol.
|The snap placket, this time open, a stretchy weird mesh thing I bought because it was a dollar, three different kinds of ribbon - stretchy, flowered, and linen (the last two sewn down completely, the first one sewn in loops you can stick your fingers into.) Next row: same flower patch, a ribbon sewn in with a picture frame hanging off it and a fuzzy hair accessory, and another ribbon with a magnet purse clasp sewn into the ends....|
|...and which has a velcro strip so it can be removed, with a polarfleece operational pocket underneath it for keeping stuff in.|
|The back is super basic flannel, which apparently helps keep the blanket from slipping off of one's lap. My sewing here is atrocious - please ignore.|
The basic layout here came from Rob Appell of ManSewing's extremely great tutorial here: this gave really clear and helpful suggestions for both how to do it and how to plan it out to provide stimulating, but comforting, activities for someone suffering from dementia. He made his for his grandpa, whom he thought might respond to the clasps, burlap, and measuring tape - things he'd used as a carpenter and crafts person before his illness. Personalizing these, the theory goes, may spark some piece of recognition in a dementia patient, or give them a comforting moment of muscle or sensory memory usage when their cognitive memory is not up to the task. Though I was anxious about some of the new crafty skills I was attempting - eek, zippers! velcro! - this came together remarkably quickly, once I had laid out the pieces and figured out how I would use the piles of crap I'd bought.
In answer to the "what would Carol want?" question, my cousin suggested pastels would be good, but I tried to avoid making it look like a child's easter basket too much with some darker burgundy, a bit of gray, and some purple - the color of Alzheimer's awareness. She did specify Carol's name and that she hated cats and loved birds, music, and gardening, so the flower patch and fabric were apt: and I did keep an eye out for bird patches and the like, but it seemed every one I saw was cat-related, no help at all! I could probably have done better in the "personalization" department... I will plan that out better for next time. I hope the stretchy bands and picture frames can actually hold pictures decently; and most of the hanging bits (and the fake fur) are detatchable in case this needs to be washed or some of those pieces replaced (eg with something less noisy, distracting, or unwelcome.) It's not all interchangeable like that, but I think it could withstand a little more wear this way.
Fidget blankets seem to be a relatively new thing, and not necessarily the first thing an MD might prescribe to a patient who was dealing with Alzheimer's: they aren't exactly something you'd find in a medical supply store. But I was really intrigued by the enthusiasm of the informal online Alzheimer's care-takers community for these, and the interesting cottage industry that has sprung up for the customizable creations on Etsy and the like. There doesn't seem to be a lot, if any, of commercial sources for these funny, idiosyncratic little things, and so it has been left up to the makers, the caretakers, and even the sufferers themselves to come up with ways to create these, and share what elements seem to help, or at least to interest, themselves or their loved ones.
In this way, these seem to be a singularly homespun gesture of defiance and hope, a way to provide occupational therapy of sorts for people whose neural connections are failing daily, and a way to say "I love you, even if you don't know who I am anymore." As defeating and helpless-making as this disease must be for everyone involved, I appreciate that this is an attempt, however amateurish, at flipping Alzheimer's and other disorders a big ol' bird (which surely Carol would approve, given her love of birds.)
linking up with Can I Get a Whoop Whoop at Confessions of a Scrap Addict.