When singer Sharon Wallace began volunteering at a hospice near her home, she was eager to help in any way possible. So when she noticed how fidgety many of the dementia patients were and found a pattern for “fidget mitts” online, she decided to try her hand at knitting some.
“It can be heartbreaking when you see people affected by dementia,” she said. “They’re often in another world.”
She began handcrafting the specialized fiddle mitts, which are cuffs covered with beads, ribbons, buttons, and other objects that patients can play with to keep their hands busy. The idea blossomed into a knitting group as well as a Facebook page called Handmade for Dementia, where other creative types could come together to share their ideas for projects to help dementia patients.
The group sent their creations to hospices and hospitals in the area but soon ran out of places to send them. That’s when they got a brilliant suggestion from a retired nurse, Eileen Copeland. She asked if the ladies could make longer “fiddle sleeves” that could cover up patients’ cannulas to keep them from messing with the medical devices.
And so Sharon and her friends set to work on their new project, designing the new cannula sleeves with special knitted decorations for people with dementia to fiddle with instead of their cannulas.
“From then on my life changed completely,” says Sharon. She now has a copyright on the pattern and coordinates donations of cannula sleeves from knitters all over. The group has gained popularity in the last couple of years and even received the “Trailblazer of the Year” award at the Dementia Friendly Awards in 2018.
All the materials are paid for by donors, and each item is tested for quality and safety. More than 6,000 of them have been made already.
The Countess of Chester Hospital calls the sleeves a “much-needed stimulus for those patients affected by dementia.” Staff at Arrowe Park Hospital concur, saying the sleeves are a “simple solution that can help so many.”
“Knitting helps people help others,” says Sharon. “We’re all doing our bit.” Although the group is made up entirely of women at the moment, Sharon invites anyone to join, male or female, as long as they can knit.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?