Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Where It Began

In 2010 as I visited at my mother-in-law’s rest home, I watched the restless fidgeting of some of their residents with dementia. I enjoy sewing and wanted to make them something helpful. Many people have helped.

The goal has become to --
  1. Design activity aids to soothe agitation, stimulate memory and exercise the hands of people with advanced Alzheimer’s or other cognitive challenges.
  2. Make patterns for the aids available. Make sewing ideas flexible to allow anyone with basic sewing skills and equipment to be creative and design their own mat for under $10.
  3. Encourage you to join in, sew one mat or gather some friends and make many.Give them to a friend caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s or a school or facility for children with special needs. The need is great. Your gift can help.
I have learned there are 5 million people with Alzheimer's or dementia in the US alone (according to In addition, mats like ours also help various people with autism, ADD, vets with traumatic brain injury, as well as people recovering from strokes.

Many professional and family caregivers of people with dementia have helped. A local rest home suggested “mats” – allowing people with Alzheimer's to have a table activity during BINGO. Removable apron ties were added to the mats for use as aprons or lap mats. One nurse with 15 years of experience with Alzheimer’s clients told me, "Use it on loose it” is no joke. Hands and fingers stiffen if they are not exercised. Memory and other senses also atrophy without use. Our mats encourage exercise and can be customized by caregivers, therapists, etc. We have received positive feedback from caregivers.

Mats provide stimulation and agitation relief for people with dementia.
  • Zippers, buttons, strings of beads and bells, objects to squeeze and stretch,  yarn or braiding ribbons provide tactile stimulation and exercise for arms,  hands, and fingers.
  • Soft toy animals, furry pockets, and yarn bundles provide soothing relief for sore hands or agitation.
  • A vinyl pocket for photos or memory notes, and use of familiar objects such as button closures provide memory and therapy stimulation.
  • Different colors, textures, pictures, and light-up toys provide visual stimulation.
  • Bells and squeeze toys with squeakers provide auditory stimulation.

Purpose of the Mats

Our activity mats are designed to safely stimulate and soothe people with  Alzheimer’s and other cognitive challenges.
They help users have a better quality of LIFE. Mats or bright and fun. They:
L - Lift spirits and entertain users while relieving caregivers.
I - Interest  users in items on mat. This stimulates senses and reinforces memory.
F - Focus users attention during therapy or conversation with caregiver. Helps visitors and staff find topics of conversation with users.
E - Exercise hands and fingers.

Mats are easily customized to user needs and interests. Flexible instructions allow for minimal equipment and varied supplies. Customize your Activity Mats to suit your intended users and favorite sewing methods. Do keep safety for users in mind. Secure items to withstand constant pulling. Use durable, washable supplies.  (Note: We did use some cold water, no chlorine bleach, cool or gentle cycle dry materials.)

Important notes regarding mat safety:

Mats are easily personalized with clip-on items that best suit the user. The mats are safe when used with caregiver supervision. (Especially note user sensitivity to blinking lights, danger of  swallowing hazards, etc.) The mats are not intended for use by children except in therapy settings.

Making activity mats is a great volunteer opportunity

  • As a group activity, this project is a fun, creative, social opportunity activity.
  • Making mats is a great way to help people with dementia and their caregivers.
  • People with mild dementia can join in and feel welcome and productive.
  • Prior sewing experience is handy but not necessary, and there are plenty of tasks that don’t involve sewing, such as cutting fabric, stringing beads, and organizing supplies for group assembly.
  • Beginning sewers should have no fear as volunteers are willing to share their experience.
  • Young people can learn to sew and experience the fulfillment of volunteerism.

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