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Fidget quilts soothe restless hands, anxiety of those with Alzheimer’s

28November 2020

Shirley Anderson’s new blanket has all sorts of bells and whistles.

The small lap quilt features nine squares, with two or more activities per square. There are buttons, zippers, laces, Velcro flaps, ribbons, beads, snaps, bells and even a pink hair roller — all designed to keep Anderson’s mind and fingers busy.

Shirley Anderson works on her new fidget blanket at Johanna Shores in Arden Hills. (Courtesy of Presbyterian Homes)

Anderson was one of the first residents of Johanna Shores, a senior community in Arden Hills that is part of Presbyterian Homes & Services, to receive a new “fidget” blanket from the St. Croix Valley Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The blankets and aprons are designed to soothe the restlessness and anxiety that often come with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, said Jane Homme, who is leading the volunteer effort for the DAR.

“Many tend to fidget with their fingers,” Homme said. “They’ll tap on a chair arm, for example. This is to get them to use their fingers in a healthier way and move. It keeps their brain more engaged and keeps them in the present.”

Staff at Johanna Shores told Homme that they were eager to get the blankets, she said.

“They’re understaffed because of COVID, and they’ve had a hard time finding enough things to keep their residents occupied during the day,” she said.

A HIT WITH RESIDENTS

Kara Reiser, life enrichment director for Johanna Shores, said the quilts have been a huge hit with residents.

No two are the same, and “they’re really well made,” Reiser said. “They have a remarkable calming effect on the residents living with memory loss by keeping their hands and minds engaged. We are so grateful for their fine work and thoughtfulness.”

The lap quilts, typically 20 inches by 24 inches, contain interactive materials such as zippers, Velcro flaps, ribbons, buttons, snaps and small toys or stuffed animals with different textures that are sewn directly into the fabric.

Homme said working on the volunteer project has been a godsend during the pandemic.

“It’s really hard to find a place to volunteer our time,” she said. “Normally, at this time of the year, we would be helping call Bingo, working on the Shop, Ship and Share program for the VFW for troops overseas, or knitting scarves and hats for people who are homeless.”

RECONNECTING DURING COVID

The St. Croix Valley Chapter of the DAR has committed to making 80 blankets or aprons, which will be divided between Johanna Shores and Boutwells Landing in Oak Park Heights.

Jane Homme puts the finishing touches on a Fidget quilt for people in Alzheimer’s units and memory care, at her Woodbury home, Nov. 17, 2020. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

Homme has been a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution since 2013. Her family’s background includes those who served in the 8th Regiment of Massachusetts. She is the local chapter’s registrar and spent one recent weekday afternoon constructing a quilt at her house in Woodbury.

“I’m making a hand-muff to put on a girl doll,” she said. “Everything has to be attached, so it can’t be removed or swallowed, and it all has to be all washable.”

Her blankets feature bright colors — red, orange and yellow — that are designed to be “eye-grabbing and attention-grabbing,” she said.

Homme’s blankets tend to have themes; one, for example, was centered upon sewing. “So instead of beads, we have wooden spools and empty thread bobbins that we use for grabbing and touching and feeling and moving around.”

“I had been itching to get this started just because I’ve felt like a lost little soul with COVID,” Homme said. “It’s been a really important project for me to just get my fingers working again.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Anyone with materials or fabric to donate to the St. Croix Valley Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is asked to email [email protected]; requests for fidget blankets also can be made at that email address.

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