Dementia and twiddlemuffs
If you know anyone with dementia, you should read this. An elderly relative of mine had this distressing condition and exhibited certain behaviours which, I now know, are very common amongst sufferers: a habit of fiddling with and picking at things (clothing, even skin to the point of causing bleeding); a fixation with certain objects and a desire to carry them around; anxiety, restlessness and difficulty in settling, because the world no longer makes sense.
The niece of a woman with dementia noticed that her aunt had become frustrated because she could no longer knit and was at a loss what to do with her hands. The niece came up with the wonderful idea of making a “twiddlemuff” – a soft muff that incorporates plenty of features of visual and tactile interest. As well as patches or shapes from differently coloured or textured fabric, these features can include beads, buttons, pockets for treasures, zips, ribbons and other things that even a person with limited dexterity or poor eyesight can interact with and fiddle with.
The muff keeps the user’s hands warm while encouraging movements that help to maintain mobility in arthritic hands. Twiddlemuffs are starting to be used in care homes and hospitals and are found to have a soothing, calming effect on those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Often a patient will sit quietly for some time with a twiddlemuff instead of wandering around aimlessly, becoming anxious and putting themselves at risk of falling. Some commercially-made twiddlemuffs resemble an animal, and the user will typically give the animal a name and may talk to it or use it to interact with carers.
I only heard about twiddlemuffs recently through an article in the local newspaper. The NHS in Bradford has put a call out to knitters to make muffs for dementia patients, both to use while in hospital and to take away with them. Several other hospitals around the UK have put out similar calls for volunteer knitters or sewers. It seemed such a worthwhile idea that I got knitting straight away and had made my first twiddlemuff in a few evenings of knitting. The instructions provided by Bradford, and the Warrington and Halton Hospitals version which is on Ravelry, leave something to be desired (“knit a line, pearl a line”, anyone?) and I am in the process of writing my own version. It’s an ideal way of using up scraps of yarn and also oddments of fabric and haberdashery. Whether you have a relative with dementia, or are a professional carer, a nurse or just someone who supports a local hospital or nursing home, have a go at making one, you may find it is one of the most worthwhile things you have ever made.
This is the inside, which has areas of moss stitch, cables, bobbles and garter stitch, with an integrated I-cord on which there are two rings.
It goes without saying that everything needs to be safe – unbreakable, non-sharp and securely attached.
The outside is mainly of chenille with rectangles of mohair, “poodle” yarn and brushed acrylic. It has ribbons sewn on that can be plaited or tied in a bow, as well as a wooden bead on a cord and buttons.
I will check my tension with each yarn I use the next time around, as you can see it’s a bit variable on this one.
I drove over to Bradford on Sunday and dropped off the twiddlemuff at the infirmary, then went on to Texere to get some camel-coloured alpaca for my niece’s Christmas present. I’m knitting her a slouchy, ribbed hat to go with the fingerless mittens I gave her last year.
Texere has had a makeover since I was last there at the beginning of the year, with a new cash desk and a more spacious layout, although the upstairs sales floor has now become offices. There’s a new rummage room, full of cones of yarn arranged by colour and priced at 1p, 2p or 3p per gramme. Unfortunately, they were virtually all too fine for hand knitting, which is probably just as well since I already have a yarn stash the size of the Eiger.
Santa hats for premature babies
Bliss, the charity that gives support to premature and special care babies and their families, is seeking knitters in the Yorkshire area to make teeny Santa hats to adorn babies (or their incubators) born over Christmas. I’ve only managed one so far, but they are quick to make, fortunately. This is for a medium-sized prem baby and is absolutely tiny. I still need to make a bobble for the top.
Again, the pattern provided by Bliss is far from straightforward and will put off inexperienced knitters. It doesn’t even give the needle sizes in mm or UK “old money”.