Seniors who suffer from cognitive degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia have similar psychological and behavioral symptoms. These symptoms often include irritability, agitation, aggression, apathy, depression, elation and delusions.
Treating these symptoms with the help of pharmaceuticals is most often not a suitable solution. Medications to treat symptoms may interact with meds used to treat the disease. The side-effects of these drugs may also be mild to severe making treatment for an extended period risky.
Alternative means to soothe and calm Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are therefore recommended. Fidget blankets – also called activity blankets, quilts, aprons, vests, or boards – have been found to have a beneficial impact on the elderly.
But what are fidget blankets, what do they do and do the really work?
What Are Fidget Blankets?
Fidget blankets are therapeutic quilts to which different items have been attached or sewn on. These items offer sensory stimulation that has a calming effect on Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. The blankets alleviate boredom in the elderly and provide a means of performing repetitive behaviors that are often comforting and distracting.
Items should provide different types of textures and different functions such as the ability to fold, wrap, rub or click items together. Colorful items and items that release scents are also useful on blankets. The idea is to stimulate as many of the 5 senses as possible.
It is however important not to attach any items to the blanket that could be harmful, used to cause harm or are hazardous. Items that are used repetitively are prone to wear and tear and the blanket may need to be mended or replaced on a regular basis.
How Are Fidget Blankets Used For Dementia And Alzheimer’s Patients?
The blanket with the items sewn into place can be placed in the lap of the elderly person while seated. The patient may automatically start fidgeting with the items or require some encouragement to touch and play with the items. Although the blankets can also be referred to as activity blankets, there are no goals to achieve other than providing soothing sensory stimulation and alleviate boredom.
Blankets can also be placed on a table. An activity vest or apron is a good alternative to an activity blanket for seniors with dementia because they can be worn and are therefore with the person at all times. Pillows are also a good idea.
Do Fidget Blankets Work?
There is still much research that needs to be performed in to how fidget blankets work for the elderly. However, research has found that they are beneficial for reducing the above-mentioned symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s as well as alleviating stress, anxiety and boredom.
Fidgeting or repetitive behaviors for comfort most often occur when a person is experiencing stress or anxiety. Providing an outlet for this stress through fidgeting is calming. Some studies suggest that fidgeting or repetitive behaviors may even relieve pain in the elderly.
The sensory stimulation is believed to be a means of keeping the hands busy and prevent thoughts escalating into negative emotions that often result in agitated or aggressive behavior. To date, the data available suggests that fidget blankets do work to soothe and calm seniors.
How To Make A Fidget Blanket?
Fidget blankets are not that difficult to put together. Simply buy a lap quilt or piece of felt and attach items that would provide the necessary sensory stimulation. They also make a great sensory gift for dementia patients too.
Some preferred items include:
- Strings of beads that can be turned, pulled, counted and clicked together. Different shapes, sizes, colors and textures are a good idea.
- Satin and velvety ribbons that can be twisted, folded or wrapped around a finger.
- Different fabrics such as fur, sack cloth or material with colorful designs that can be touched, rubbed or traced with a finger.
- Loops through which string, wool or ribbons can be threaded.
- Hoops to which blunt hooks or clips can be attached and removed.
- Buttons and buttonholes that can be opened and closed. These are great on a pocket sewn into the quilt that contains a hidden treasure such as a glass bead or gem.
- Zippers make a great noise, cause vibrations and are very satisfying to open and close repeatedly.
- Latches and locks that are easy to open and close are also great. Be aware that these can be challenging and therefore frustrating for seniors that don’t have the greatest dexterity due to health conditions such as Parkinson’s or osteoarthritis.
Remember that each item should be attached securely to the blanket so that it cannot be removed. Durable items are better suited to be used on a fidget blankets for dementia patients.
Below are some easy to follow patterns for fidget blankets:
If DIY is not your thing, then there are a wide range of fidget blankets, aprons, vests, pillows and even muffs available for sale.
What Are The Best Activity and Fidget Blankets for Seniors with Dementia?
Some of our favorite fidget blankets for the elderly at Graying With Grace include:
Activity Pillow and Fidget Cushion
The design of this pillow may look simple but contains all the elements to keep hands busy and senses stimulated. For some dementia patients, simple is better. The pillow has different textures and colors as well as items that can be folded, opened, closed and threaded.
It is machine washable on the gentle cycle for easy care and weighs just 8.6 oz.
Activity Apron for Dementia by Posey
Another simple design that can be worn and taken anywhere the senior goes. One of the best features of this apron is the clear pocket into which a photo of the family can be placed. This is a great way to help dementia or Alzheimer’s patients to recognize family members. It is important to remember to update the photo regularly.
TwiddleSport Activity Muff
This muff has all the necessary sensory stimulation items including different colors, textures, beads, ribbons and more. It is of course ideal to also keep hands warm and can conveniently travel along with the senior anywhere they go.
Busy Board Activity Board
The Busy Board is ideally suited to the male gender with suitable colors and activities to keep them stimulated. Much more hardware and less of the soft touch plus plenty of gadgets that can be opened and closed to keep hands that are used to being busy active.
The board is a little more costly but durable and one of the few items specifically created with men in mind. There are a few color choices too.
This fidget sensory pad offers lots of activities to provide calming and soothing entertainment for seniors and the elderly with dementia or anxiety. There are memory components included too with places for family photos spread throughout the blanket.
For sensory input, this one is also made up of fabrics with different textures and thicknesses. This provides varying tactile stimulation to reduce boredom as well.
I chose this one for senior men with dementia because it has more traditionally masculine tones like browns and navy blues. There are all sorts of buckles, beads, tassels, and fabrics of all textures to keep him busy, active and entertained too.
It measures 21″ X 21″ so could easily be used on a lap, table or wheelchair. Velcro tab included for rolling the blanket up for storage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the common questions people have about using fidget blankets and activity boards for seniors with dementia. If your question isn’t answered, feel free to ask in the comments below.
Do Fidget Blankets Work?
Yes, fidget blankets work to alleviate agitation, aggression, stress, anxiety, boredom and depression in the elderly suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. (source)
Why Do Dementia Patients Fidget?
Dementia patients may fidget in reaction to stress and anxiety to soothe and calm themselves. However, it could also simply be due to boredom. Another reason is believed to be a way to alleviate thought processes that can be frustrating and lead to negative behaviors such as aggression and agitation. (source)
What Size is a Fidget Blanket?
Fidget blankets come in different sizes and shapes. Ideally, the blankets are small enough to fit on a lap or table where the activities and items on the blanket can be easily accessed. However, you can buy or make just about any size or shape fidget blanket.
What Can You Put on a Fidget Blanket?
You can put just about anything on a fidget blanket that won’t cause harm to the senior, can’t be used to harm others or that are hazardous. Items that stimulate 4 of the 5 senses are ideal – touch, sight, sound and smell. It is a little more difficult to add items that stimulate the sense of taste. Items should always be attached securely and replaced or repaired when they become worn.
Be aware when replacing items that they should be as similar to the old items as possible. Seniors become familiar with certain items on the blanket and their favorites are the ones that are likely to deteriorate the fastest. Changing items can cause confusion, distress and anxiety.
Most people are familiar with the memory loss and cognitive decline that are associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. However, few are aware of the more common symptoms of agitation, aggression, irritability, depression and apathy that are common to most people who have been diagnosed with one of these conditions.
Patients, caregivers and loved ones often find these the most difficult to deal with. Although the symptoms are treatable with medications, this is not ideal or recommended. Alternatives such as the fidget blanket provide the perfect way to help alleviate the most common and devastating symptoms of cognitive degenerative disorders without any side effects or negative health consequences.