People with dementia often find fiddling with material a helpful way to relieve feelings of anxiety. ‘Twiddling’ can be incorporated into specially-made activity blankets, cushions, aprons, toys, muffs and mitts.
We speak with Sharon Holdstock who founded Handmade for Dementia. Through this initiative, the group are helping to reduce the anxiety of people affected by dementia in hospital with the use of their newly devised Dementia Cannula Sleeves.
Now, Sharon seeks more volunteers to join her national campaign to help knit Dementia Cannula Sleeves for local hospitals.
How I became interested in knitting for people with dementia
Two years ago, I was a day care volunteer at a hospice in Chester. It was there that another volunteer introduced me to a knitting pattern from the NHS.
I’m not a knitter, however the pattern from the NHS for Dementia Twiddle Mitts was so easy to make. I knitted a couple of them within a few days. Soon I realised these twiddle mitts, lap mats, boards and comfort dolls are really needed.
Dementia is prevalent in my family, and I wanted to see how many others could benefit from these items. I decided I would try and find people to help make them.
Creating a community of knitters
Initially, there were only about fifteen members knitting within Chester. They started to make twiddle mitts for all the care homes in their local area. They also made fidget lap mats, fidget aprons and new outfits for dolls to be given as comfort dolls to people affected by dementia.
Back in May 2016, I’d started a Facebook group dedicated to Handmade for Dementia. It is helpful for members who want to swap ideas, share new techniques, stay updated on the progress of donations and read the feedback we receive from hospitals.
We provide guidelines on how to make things safely for all of our members, including our out-of-area members via Facebook.
All items made in the Handmade for Dementia group are risk assessed (and labelled, if local to Chester) before being donated to the hospitals.
Our local knitting group in Chester meets every week and provides great social interaction for members who do not have a lot of company.
Seeking a new challenge
Once the demand for twiddle mitts slowed down, the group were trying to think of new items they could make.
In October 2017, it was knitter Eileen Copeland, a retired District Nurse, who suggested a knitted cannula sleeve. This would help ease the anxiety of an obtrusive cannula needle being inserted in the arm.
The cannula needle can also be costly, so the need for fewer to be used is something we wanted to help with.
Our new national campaign: Dementia Cannula Sleeves
The Dementia Cannula Sleeve is a longer twiddle mitt with cuffs at each end that can be worn on any arm.
The sleeves are made from really bright colours and textured wool. They are also lined with an inner sleeve for added comfort.
Patients are less likely to pull out their cannula needle while twiddling with the items sewn on it. These items are only ever crocheted or knitted, and therefore are very safe.
By reducing the need to re-cannulate people affected by dementia, it saves money, time and the need for sedation in some cases.
What can be achieved with the sleeve
The Dementia Cannula Sleeves were trialled for two months at a Chester hospital towards the end of 2017. They were hailed a great success.
Our Facebook group has now grown to include over 3,000 members. There are students who find knitting a helpful way to relieve the stress of exams. We also have members who are bereaved, and other members that have joined the group who are in remission from cancer. They all say making our Dementia Cannula Sleeves is helping them, by helping others.
So far, Handmade for Dementia has made over 3,500 Dementia Cannula Sleeves and donated them to 55 hospitals in the UK since January 2018. We now own the copyright to the pattern that has saved the NHS thousands of pounds.
Not only that, this year Handmade for Dementia was nominated for a Dementia Friendly Award. It has recently been announced that we are a finalist for Trailbrazer of the year award.
• Are you interested in helping Handmade for Dementia? The group is looking for knitters who would like to help the campaign. You can join the Facebook group and volunteer to knit these Dementia Cannula Sleeves for your local hospitals.
Please note, Handmade for Dementia can only support volunteers who wish to make the Dementia Cannula Sleeves via our Facebook group for hospitals of your choice. We are focused on this national campaign and are unable support volunteers hoping to make other twiddle items, such as mitts, aprons or boards.
• Follow Handmade for Dementia on Twitter @HfdnwUkOfficial.
• Learn more about various restless behaviours – such as fidgeting, pacing and agitation – that people with dementia may develop.