By Alison Cram

07th July 2020

Categorised in Health & Wellbeing

My Dad has vascular dementia and about a year ago I began to notice that on days when his anxiety and agitation were particularly bad, he would fiddle with whatever he could get his hands on. He’d play with the buttons on his shirt, repeatedly pull at the buckle on his trouser belt or trace his fingers back and forward along the hem of his jumper.

People living with dementia often have restless hands – a common symptom of anxiety. Giving them something to fiddle with can help to reduce that anxiety by engaging, stimulating and soothing their senses.

So I began to give Dad things to fiddle with – a paper napkin that he could happily rip into small pieces or some buttons from my button box.

Then I heard about specially made “fiddle” products, such as blankets, muffs, mittens or aprons that have extra bits added on to them, such as ribbons, buttons or pom-poms.

Being a knitter and crafter, I realised that this was something I could probably rustle up myself. So I bought a second-hand fleece blanket from our local charity shop for the grand sum of £3, had a good rummage in my sewing drawer and got going.

The fleece blanket was great, as it was easy to get a needle through but also tough enough to withstand Dad pulling or tearing at it, which he sometimes does.

The only other things I bought especially was a square of fake fur fabric, which is nice and soft to the touch. Other than that I simply used what I had lying around – some buttons, bits of ribbon from Christmas presents, spare bits of fabric and oddments of wool that I crocheted into circles.

It was a lovely project to do – it was nice to be creative and feel I was helping Dad at the same time. It was also a great way to use up old scraps and those bits and bobs that hang around the bottom of the sewing box for years waiting to come in handy.

And has it worked? 

Definitely. Some days better than others (sometimes I give him the blanket and he hands it straight back to me as if to say, “what on earth do I want this for?”) but I’ve also seen him sit for ages exploring the different shapes and textures with his fingers, the rest of him still and quiet in the chair.

So I do recommend giving it a go. It can be a creative and inexpensive way to help a loved one cope with the anxiety and agitation of dementia.

You don’t have to be an experienced seamstress by any means – as long as you can thread a needle and sew a few stitches you’ll be able to make something. In this regard a blanket is probably the easiest thing to tackle.

And it doesn’t really matter what you use to embellish it as long as you provide a mix of shapes, textures and colours. Just make sure you attach them as securely as possible and don’t use anything too sharp or rough.

I found that my Dad preferred the blanket to the twiddlemuff that my sister made for him. A twiddlemuff is a tube of material that you can put your hands into (nice for keeping them cosy) and has extra bits sewn on the inside and outside. However, for some reason Dad doesn’t like putting his hands inside it – so you may find that different things work for different people.

For more experienced sewers, you might like to try making it a memory blanket by sewing pictures or words that represent something in your loved one’s life that has always meant a lot to them or might bring back good memories.

Do a quick online search and you’ll come up with lots of images to inspire you and give you ideas. You can also download instructions for the following here: