Volunteers make textured sleeves to comfort patients with dementia

Teresa Lucier’s interest was piqued by a Facebook post that showed special knitted sleeves soothe people with dementia.

Knowing that patients with dementia can often become confused or agitated in hospital settings, Teresa was eager to make the sleeves available at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital.

“Fidget sleeves, also known as cannula sleeves or twiddle muffs, are knitted sleeves with added objects and textures,” says Teresa, manager of volunteer services at the Grey Nuns hospital. “They offer visual and tactile stimulation to calm people with dementia and keep their hands busy. They can also be used to cover an IV to prevent patients from pulling at them.”

Teresa approached Marie Moore, a volunteer known for her sewing and knitting skills, to ask if she might be interested in making fidget sleeves for Grey Nuns patients. Marie was eager to get involved and partnered with her friend, Eileen Sorensen.

Grateful for the care Grey Nuns staff showed her late husband during his stay at the hospital, Marie says she was happy to help other patients.

“My husband had surgery at the Grey Nuns, and I really appreciated the care they gave him, so I decided to volunteer,” Marie says. “I hope patients experience some calm and comfort from the sleeves.”

Since they began the project in 2019, Marie and Eileen have made around 100 fidget sleeves for Grey Nuns patients. Suzanne Avoledo, manager of Unit 52, says her team is grateful for the positive changes that happen when patients with dementia use the sleeves.

“A lot of our patients with dementia need to be kept busy, and sometimes the anxiety they feel is out of boredom,” Suzanne says. “The sleeves also prevent the need to put cumbersome gauze around tubes and IVs.”

Using their own materials and occasionally those donated to the hospital, Marie and Eileen work together to create the fidget sleeves. After Marie knits the sleeves, she gives them to Eileen to begin the intricate decoration process. Eileen carefully adorns each sleeve with a variety of textures, objects and appliques, including tiny animals and dolls that she knits and stuffs herself.

“The patterns or decorations I use are different every time, but they are often inspired by what I see on Facebook,” Eileen says. “I hope the sleeves make them feel like someone is sending them kind wishes while they are in the hospital.”

From start to finish, each sleeve takes approximately eight hours to complete, though the time required depends on what kinds of decorations are involved. And since no two sleeves are the same, Suzanne says they feel personalized and unique to each patient.

“The sleeves have been very successful, and once the patient has one, it’s theirs to keep,” Suzanne says. “We’re so thankful for these volunteers for their creativity in making these.”

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