Dementia patients can show quirky new impulses as the disease progresses that are challenging for caregivers. So, I created an easy DIY dementia busy mat that helped my mother-in-law stay occupied.
Dementia can be just as hard for caregivers as it is for the patient suffering from it. It can be exhausting taking care of them, making sure they stay safe and occupied. We cared for my dear mother-in-law for several years in our home when she could no longer live alone and before we needed to move her to a dementia facility.
My mother-in-law developed a habit of “picking.” She would pick her skin until it bled, for example, or constantly zip and unzip her clothing.
She could no longer crochet or hold a book to read, so I created a busy mat for her to occupy her hands. It is based on the cloth books my kids had when they were little, that had laces to tie, buttons to button and unbutton, snaps, etc.
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Directions for dementia busy mat.
I bought a colorful cloth place mat, and then went to JoAnn Fabric store and let my imagination run wild.
(For those of you not familiar with Joann Fabric, it is a national fabric and craft store, but any craft store would have the same items, I’m sure.)
I chose items that were very sensory in nature, including faux fur, ball fringe, tulle, a large snap, a large button, a zipper, Velcro, glittery ribbon, and small scraps of colorful material.
Here is a close up:
I love doing crafts, but I hate to sew, so I used fabric glue to attach all the items to the place mat.
Here is what I did:
I used fabric glue to attach strips of faux fur, a tuft of tulle and a long piece of ribbon (glued in the middle so it could be tied into a bow). I also attached glittery and rough-feeling trim on 2 sides and ball fringe on the other 2 sides. Finally, I attached a cute already-made tulle and felt decoration from JoAnn’s that was meant to be attached to a purse (score!).
For the Velcro, I used the kind that already has a sticky back and attached one part to a piece of fabric. I cut the fabric a little long and wrapped and glued it around the Velcro to make a finished edge. I also cut the Velcro a bit shorter than the piece of fabric so it would lay completely flat when open. The other part was just stuck to the place mat.
For the snap, I did sew it to the top flap of fabric (because I can at least do that much sewing!). But once I sewed it on, I realized the fabric I chose, which was a colorful cotton, was too thin. The fabric would easily tear as she opened and closed it. So, I added an iron-on patch (that I had left-over from patching a hole in my son’s jeans) to the underside of the top flap to make it stronger. That worked much better.
I decided not to use the button after all because she no longer had the dexterity to work a button. I didn’t want it to be a frustration for her. By the way, the button I found was meant to be used for a large shawl as a single closure. So it was really big, about 2″ wide.
Here is what the dementia busy mat looks like with items “undone.” The zipper is open, the Velcro apart, and snap undone.
My mother-in-law really enjoyed using her dementia busy mat. I am glad it helped her keep her restless fingers busy.
So, I hope you don’t mind. I just had to share a picture of her using it. 🙂
My mother-in-law passed away in October 2015. But I wanted to share this idea with others in case you or someone you know is caring for a dementia patient. I know how difficult it can be. So, I hope this is one thing that can help make life a tiny bit easier for you.
Good luck and hang in there!
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