Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Making Fidget Quilts for Alzheimer's Patients

If you read my blog  With Heart and Hands on a regular basis, then you know what a huge proponent I am in understanding and educating others about the devastation of Alzheimer's Disease.

My blog has been filled with countless posts as I, myself, have journeyed through that process of learning about its effects on my loved ones and what it does to families, as well as educating others about this horrific disease.  I only wish I could have been more honest about the hurricane path of devastation it leaves be hind it, but each of us did our very best that we had in us at the time, and each of us learns more and more about who we are and how we act when our loved ones got through the ages and stages of Alzheimer's Disease.

As a quilter and especially as a quilter who continually strives to give to others, sewing and quilting for community service projects has always been at the top of my list of favorite things.

January is always the beginning of a New Year. It is a month of transitions as well as fresh starts. But for me, it has always been a month for reconnecting with the past and going forward into the future at the same time.

Yet at the same time, it is also about putting away some things,  while maintaining an awareness of my roots and the core facets of my true nature.... and all of the things that mean the most to me as a creative person.

So, my big project this month was the creation of 'Fidget Quilts' for Alzheimer's and Dementia patients. I spent years watching my own mother progress through the stages of Alzheimer's Disease as I traveled back and forth between my current home in Oregon and my childhood home on Douglas Island, Alaska.

I saw the increasing distractions, the fidgeting, the inability to stay calm and centered and always sought a multitude of ways to keep her engaged, happy, content, and even busy.

We folded simple towels and pieces of clothing together, we did little art projects, we played 'beauty shop' and 'I remember when' and all kinds of games that I created that would make her laugh (mostly at me!) and keep her entertained and having fun while still engaging her mind, her hands, and help to make her smile.

I made many books, pillows, and quilts with various textures for her to fondle and admire with the tiny bit of vision that she still maintained. Photo quilts were one of our favorites, scenes from her wedding, her honeymoon, her connections with family and friends, her time in the cancer care center here in Salem while we battled (and won!) her supposedly end stage inflammatory breast cancer.

But when I was gone..returning to my own home in Oregon, to my own family, and loved ones there..I tried to leave behind things and ideas that my father could incorporate into her daily routine. Soft pillows and blankets and afghans and of course...quilts!

When we want to make a quilt for someone we don't know, a quilt can be almost anything, but the addition of little bits and pieces that catch someone's eye is very frankly, very similar to catching a new baby's attention. Simple graphic elements, or bright colors, or unusual juxtaposing of either of those, and in my case here...labels and tags that extend out from the edge of the quilt. 

***And contrary to an old wives tale..red and orange are the BEST not the worst colors to include in a Dementia quilt...they are in fact the colors that we are able to see as our vision dims or colors, edges, and patterns begin to blur into one another! So use red, orange, bright fuchsia mixed in with your calming colors!!!
see:Vision Problems Associated with Alzheimer's Disease

So, incredibly effective ..didn't you notice them right off?...yet so very simple. Colors and tags..that's all it takes to make this little quilt...one of many I have just created..stand out and be noticed. And do I care if someone else's seams and edges are a little off? No..because all of ours are..inside or out!   Now, don't you get the urge..right this minute..to touch them, check out the fabric?

The little tags as they are often called can be touched, stroked, grabbed, and fiddled and fidgeted with. There's no problem with confusing them with the addition of strange items or toys as so many others seem to think a quilt for this cause might need. My mother would have been very confused, for example, to a teddy bear sewn onto a quilt or hanging from a string and indeed, would have fought to get it off.

So, simple tags, ribbons, bits and pieces from re-purposed items..a piece of a stretchy belt, a lanyard from a lumber store freebie, the woven ribbons that come wrapped around stacks of purchased fabrics. And all of these bright bits then sewn on a simple quilt that was re-purposed from orphan flannel and wool-flannel nine patch squares.

Donated to a free table, first from one quilter who choose not to use their odd bits of patching and mismatched add-on pieces, then to another and on to me! Someone who loves the old as much as the new, who is willing to use whatever she has, and/or is given, and still create something wonderful that will be loved and appreciated every step of the way!

Our loved ones and others loved ones are not throw-aways but treasured keepers, their own bits of mismatched pieces and jagged seams are as lovely in a different way then they once were, but  when seen with different eyes, a far greater gift in just being here in the now.

View others from your inner sight.... that stems from the source and travels without judgement from the heart.... and pay all you have been given forward, as well.

Life is a such journey, filled with many challenges and surprises along the way. Meet "Tao", (which means just that..the journey, the path, the way) our Himalayan cat who was orphaned and quite feral and seemingly a throw-away cat.

We took him in during a freezing cold spell on the very day that we buried a dear friend of 45 years who was killed during a freak hiking accident. A sign, a symbol, a message perhaps?  We took him in, we cleaned him up, we fed and fed and fed him, we brushed his shaggy, dirty fur and now he is a treasured (and sociable!) member of our family.

And yes, now I have to get this and cat and any fur off of all of the six completed quilts..but hey...quality tested and cat approved !!!!

This blog: Coping With Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's Reading Room: What's the Difference Between Alzheimer's and Dementia?.
In a nutshell, dementia is a symptom (once called senility) one of its causes is Alzheimer's Disease

 Michele Bilyeu blogs With Heart and Hands as she shares a quilting journey from Alaska to Oregon with thousands of free Quilting, Sewing, and Crafting Patterns and Tutorials. Help change the world, one little quilt, art quilt, and prayer flag at a time!