Sunday, July 03, 2016

Fidgety Hands

Her hands rarely stopped moving.  I watched her take the towel on her lap, rub it together and then squeeze it between her fingers.  I watched her bite the towel and try to pull out a piece of nub from the terry cloth.  Throw down her towel.  Use her foot to try to bring the towel back up to her hands.  Shake her head in frustration and then pick at the pillow.  Just constant movement.  She never seemed calm, comfortable.

Michele Bilyeu and friends
Long before I knew anyone who might need them, I read about fidget blankets from my online friend, Michele Bilyeu from With Heart and Hands.  She had lost her mother to Alzheimer's Disease and found something that helped those with fidgety hands.  Memory quilts, fidget blankets, whatever you call them, have been around for a while.  Many have lots of items attached to them--toys and ribbons and zippers and pockets and stuffed bears.  Anything that might keep a person with dementia busy for a while.  Michele's were different in focus.  Hers were more plain with textural/tactile differences for busy hands. 

I can see the worth of such blankets with zippers and buttons and belts.  Pictures of family.  They give the person things to do with their hands and mind.  I can see the worth of buttons to undo and zippers to unzip.  But I liked the simple ideas that Michele presented: different textures, different colors including reds and oranges, ribbon tabs.  For her mother, she said, too many things would confuse her, plus washing the blanket would be more difficult.  Michele's idea was to give the person some tactile pleasure as they calmed the agitated hands.

See, people with dementia and/or Alzheimer's disease can easily become agitated for many reasons.  Perhaps they are hot or hungry or upset...they have less ability to understand the emotions or feelings but still somehow want to take care of the discomfort.  So perhaps they take off all their clothes to cool down or they fidget around for long periods of time trying to find the solution.

So I started making a few of these simple fidget blankets to give to the nursing center where my mother lives.  And then for a few of my friends to give to their mothers or aunts or uncles, their friends.  Each "batch" had more things added.  The first ones were a simple quilt of four nine-patch blocks and ribbon tabs.  I made sure each ribbon had a different texture. I then added lace and satin binding.  And buttons.

I rarely was able to see someone actually use one of my blankets until Ora Lee.  She adores the blanket.  She pets it.  Holds it like a kitten, like a baby.  She takes her fingers and weaves them through the ribbon loops.  She lightly scrapes her fingernail on her pointer finger across the different fabrics.  She also tries to poke her fingers into the lace and pulls quickly in order to rip the lace holes larger.  She will work at a seam in hopes of finding a weak spot that her fingers will go through.  She ignores the blanket and fidgets with her dress or the towel.  She bites at the fabric to make a hole.  This blanket calms her and also allows her to act out her frustrations.  

It was watching this delightful woman bite and pull that I decided to no longer add the buttons.  As nice as they were to add texture, I could see someone like Ora Lee biting at them and swallowing them.  I returned to making plain blankets with some lace and tabs.  Always tabs.

I use flannels, washable silks, fleece, soft fabrics such as Minkee, cottons--one of my favorite fabrics was the kerchiefs we received when we walked to end Alzheimer's.  My newest fabric I love to use is chenille.  I always back the blankets with Minkee or something similar in kitten-softness.  Most of the off-usual fabrics I use--the silks and the chenille and some of the Minkee--have been donated to me from my quilting friends.  I find interesting fabrics in the remnant area at the fabric store.  I pick up ribbons from the sales racks.

Fidgety hands need things with which to fidget.  Uncomfortable or agitated minds need things with which to calm them down.  I am glad some people can be comforted by something as simple as a fidget blanket.

Donations to the Alzheimer's Association can be made here: Alzheimer's Association


Island Woman MJ said...

Oh Pollyanna! What a gift your hands make to hands and hearts and minds that cannot articulate what they are getting from you. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beauty full.

WilmaNC1 said...

Another heartwarming post. Thanks for sharing how you make your fidget blankets. Love you sister!