‘Fidget quilt’ turns restlessness into comfort for hospital dementia patient
Boredom and restlessness was no match for a “fidget quilt” created by a Hotel-Dieu nurse and her mother.
Katie Tonkin, an RPN at HotelDieu Grace Healthcare, noticed that “Mary” was fidgety, restless and bored: common symptoms of her dementia diagnosis.
Wanting to help make Mary’s days more comfortable, Tonkin enlisted her mother, Julie, to create a “fidget quilt” to help distract and stimulate Mary (Mary is not the patient’s real name, which cannot be released for privacy reasons).
The result was a quilt decorated with sewn-on objects like zippers, buttons, the bottom half of a baby onesie and beads — all simple things to create distraction.
“It’s all about textures and feels and just keeping her mind busy,” Tonkin explained.
Dementia is an especially difficult medical problem to treat, said Dr. Robert Biswas, the clinical lead of geriatrics at Hotel-Dieu.
“The hallmark is that if we can treat these (conditions) without using medications, that’s certainly by-and-far the best way to do that, if we can.”
Biswas said a common theme in treatment is keeping the patients occupied, which he said is probably why the quilt works.
“Any sort of distraction is beneficial,” he said.
Dementia vests are often used to help restless patients. The vest with zippers, buttons and other add-ons help to occupy a patient’s time, much in the same way the quilt would.
But the vest wasn’t ideal for Mary, Tonkin said, because she wouldn’t be able to look at it. They also considered making a pillowcase before finally opting for a portable, washable quilt.
Tonkin said she was excited to enlist her mother, a retired early childhood educator and former City of Windsor employee, in the project. Julie was eager to help, and the quilt was completed in less than two days.
The mother-daughter pair went to a second-hand store and sorted through old clothes and crafts of Katie’s to find objects suitable for the blanket.
After bringing Mary the quilt, the effect was immediate, Tonkin said.
“I was worried,” Tonkin admitted. “Is it going to work, is it not going to work? But it did.”
Mary’s behaviour steadied and the quilt kept her happy and occupied.
Biswas said non-pharmacological options “are looked at very positively.”
He added that there’s no real harm in trying therapeutic options like a fidget quilt, whereas medication can carry risk.
Mary’s behaviour was so steady, in fact, that she no longer had to take medication given as-needed to calm restless patients.
“It made me really happy,” Tonkin said.
“I care about my job, and I care about helping people,” the nurse of eight months said. “I think, if it were my family member, what would I want? Or how would I help my mom, in this situation. I like it, in that sense. It just made me really happy.”
This fidget quilt made by Katie Tonkin and her mother Julie helps steady a dementia patient.
Katie Tonkin, a registered practical nurse at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, knitted a fidget quilt with her mother.