Sensory Blanket for Alzheimer’s/Dementia Patient Care

Sensory Blanket for Alzheimer’s/Dementia Patient Care

Browsing through our local publication, The Connection Magazine, I came across an article that sparked my interest and warmed my heart.  Knit for Peace, shared a column about creating fidget hand muffs and blankets for patients with dementia.

I love creative projects, especially ones made with compassion and a purpose.  I was surprised I had never heard about this idea.  Our family is all too familiar with the struggles that accompany a loved one progressing through the stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia.  The concept of a sensory blanket (or fidget/busy blanket as some people call it) really excited me.  It would be a practical way to show our love, get the girls involved, and hopefully provide a gift for Grandma that she could use and enjoy.

I believe God had His hands in this one.  Within 2 days I had a completed lap quilt (with a full schedule and 2 younger girls in the mix, projects can often get delayed and take weeks or even months).  I was thankful to find several pre-cut squares from a quilt I had made many years ago; and there was plenty of fabric remnants to finish the small project.  I actually ended up having everything I needed in my craft closet.

I stitched the blocks together and then added the denim pockets before the gingham border.

I added several items: buttons, safety pins with beads, a carabiner with washers and key ring, bows, a felt flower, lace, ribbons for braiding.  Some of the embellishments are purely for visual or tactile effect, others are to help stimulate hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.  I like the side pockets that will drape down when it sits on her lap.  She can store other items in there or tuck away the ribbons and braiding so they are out of the way.

After hand-stitching on all of the decorative details, I cut out a piece of backing fabric and batting and pinned it all together.  The quilting didn’t take too long since the lines are straight and there isn’t much surface area.  I finished it with the floral binding.  (If you would like more information or step-by-step instruction for creating a quilt, follow this link to my Blanket of Blessings post.)

For a final little touch, I added a button and loop to secure it when it’s rolled up.  (Next time I will remember to add the loop before the binding, but it still turned out fine.) It’s not impossible to add extras once a blanket is finished, but it’s easier and looks nicer to do it before it’s all stitched together.

This would also be easy to do with a tie fleece blanket.  You could add the enhancements to the top piece, then line up the bottom and tie it together.  It would be a great activity for the kids to help with or possibly even the patient themselves.

I get sentimental with things like this, and it brings me great joy to see little pieces of all of the family in the quilt.  It tells its own story.  The top fabric was from my favorite shop in Nebraska, Country Traditions, where I first learned how to quilt; the border and backing fabric were from my grandma Ruthie’s stash; the pockets were from my husband’s old jeans; the center bow was from ribbon we used at our wedding; the buttons were from my grandma Ruth’s collection; and my girls picked out the beads and helped every step of the way.  It was a true joy and blessing to be able to make this blanket for such a special person.

Have you ever made a sensory blanket or something similar? Do you have a great suggestion for items to add on a future quilt? I’d love to hear about it.  Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.

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31 comments

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  1. I am a early on dementia patient and I am going to my make my own sensory blanket. I will use my favorite fabric,( I was a quilter ), pieces of different textured fabrics yarns and ribbons. pockets for special trinkets . pieces of crochet lace I’ve made. I can’t wait to get started !

    thank you for such a wonderful project !

    1. Dear Pat,
      Your comment has truly brightened my day! Grandma has enjoyed hers, and I hope your creative process and end product are a blessing for you. I would love to see your work, it sounds beautiful. If you feel like sharing don’t hesitate to send me an email. You are an inspiration to me as well as for patients walking through this journey.
      Thank you and God bless,
      Sarah
      sarah@sezenyourlife.com

  2. Thank you Sarah
    I heard about fidget muffs and wanted to create them for our Spring Alzheimer’s fund raiser. My close friend organises an afternoon tea party in aid of the charity. Now our craft group can visualise this project and hopefully make their own to sell on the day.

    1. Dear Julie,
      Wow, how wonderful! All of that sound amazing, the fund raiser and tea party, and a craft group to create items to sell! I think you’re really on to something there, that sounds right up my alley! It warms my heart so much to hear about people so loving, caring, and out there making a difference. These are the types of stories the world needs to hear about. Please feel free to share any ideas, or pictures of your events. You can always email me or find me on social media (the top of the page has buttons to facebook, twitter, etc..) I’m going to be sharing how much these comments are blessing me. Thank you! Many blessings to you and the groups!

  3. Lorraine: “This is such a great thing you found for the elderly to do with your little quilt. I plan to make some also thanks so much for sharing”

    Sarah: “Thank you, Lorraine. I hope you have as much fun with the Sensory Blankets as I did. I’d love to hear any ideas you came up with and see what you create!”

    (The original comments above were attached to a temporary link. They have been copied here verbatim)

  4. Bless you for posting this! I’m a CNA for private-pay Seniors and since I’m in their homes, I have the luxury of introducing different things to help them. THIS is pure genius!!

    1. Dear Patricia,
      What a wonderful career! I can’t imagine all of the challenges you are presented with on a daily basis. Thank you for having such a loving heart, I’m sure all of your patients are very blessed. It’s amazing how quickly this idea is spreading. And yes, whomever came up with it originally is so smart! I can’t believe I hadn’t heard about it, or thought about it sooner.
      Thank you!

      1. My sister in law is visually impaired but she loves to crochet. I had her crochet small mats for the base and then added bells on a ribbon , small plastic canvas hearts, crocheted flowers, beads and buttons. They are great!!!

        1. Those sound wonderful! It’s so exciting to see people of all skill levels and all walks of life making their own creative lap blankets/mats for such a worthy cause. This is one of those great projects where everyone can contribute something. Thank you so much for sharing!
          Many blessings to you and for all of your future endeavors!
          Sarah

  5. What a beautiful idea wish my muminlaw was still here it would have been a lovely gift fot her she was a very caring mum even with Alzheimer’s miss her very much

    1. Dear Barb,
      Thank you so much for your sweet comment. It’s so difficult to go through the loss of a loved one who is so near and dear to your heart. And especially when they go through Alzheimer’s. I have recently heard of several people donating to Alzheimer’s research in honor of loved ones, either financially, with their time, or even by creating their own blankets to donate to local hospitals. We’re all praying for a cure, and I pray that God gives you comfort and peace as your fondly remember your mother-in-law.
      Thank you and God Bless,
      Sarah

  6. I’m going to take this to my quilting group and suggest we make some as a project. Such a great idea. I have a neighbor who has early Alzheimer’s and I’m going to make one for him. Thank you for the great idea!

    1. Dear Ann,
      Thank you so much for your comment. I am so excited to hear about so many other people making these! Many recipients are going to be so blessed. Thank you for your kind heart and support for Alzheimer’s patients. They will benefit from this tangible source of love!
      Thank you and many blessings to you and your quilting group!
      Sarah

      • Kathy Craig on at
      • Reply

      As a certified and licensed Occupational Therapy Assistant, I would recommend adding some weight to your fidget lap quilt. The deep pressure that provides is calming to the nervous system. We use that type of thing for children with autism, attention deficit, and other sensory needs. You can buy poly beads to add weight to the quilt, or use dry rice, beans or washers.

      1. Thank you, Kathy! I will definitely research those techniques for future blankets. A few other people have suggested the weighted blankets, as well as constructing it like an apron so they don’t slide off of their laps. I love the open dialog this has provided to have a platform to present ideas and suggestions! Thank you so much for sharing your expertise. I truly appreciate it.
        If you think of anything else that would be great to add, or things we should avoid, please feel free to let us know!
        Many blessings,
        Sarah

  7. I have been wanting to sew for charity for some time now and this sounds like a good idea. How do you think a crazy quilt pattern with beads, lace and velvet go over? I usually sew clothes but have made a quilt or more. Thank you for posting this.

    1. Dear Ann,
      I think that sounds great! I love the idea of different textures of fabric, like the velvet. I don’t think there are really too many restrictions when it comes to creating a blanket. I’ll have to check around and see if any of our local hospitals would put any limits on what’s acceptable. But I would venture to guess, they’d be thrilled to accept almost anything you create. One person might prefer a solid color fleece blanket, while another will be excited with multiple colors and shapes. And different styles would give the nurses options to swap them around to different patients too possibly. You might want to see what charity or hospital is in your area to see what they suggest. And if anyone else reading has input having already done this for charity or from a medical professional’s standpoint, please feel free to comment and let us know your thoughts!
      Thank you so much, I bet your quilt will be perfect!
      Sarah

  8. Do you have to know the dementia person to make a sensory quilt to be able to personalize it?

    1. Hi Elizabeth,
      You don’t have to know a patient personally to still be able to make a blanket or quilt to donate. I’d suggest checking with a local facility or seeing if there happens to be an Alzheimer’s/Dementia charity nearby. They could provide a better idea of their current needs. Some facilities assist people who may be more self-sufficient and could use blankets that are more intricate (buckles, weaving, laces, zippers), and others might prefer something that is more visual/tactile (various fabrics, loops, shapes). But I’m sure just about any colors, fabrics, and whatever you’d like to do, they’d be happy to have! I believe for every quilt, there is the perfect person ready to receive it!
      Thank you, and many blessings!
      Sarah

    • Janette Hunter on at
    • Reply

    I am always very pleased to hear of crafty ways of contributing to help others @ knit @ sew from my sewing offcuts. I made a little hanger of my m-in-laws life @ interests for my sister-in-law with embroidered details @ charms as a remembrance @ thought charms of the patient’s special interests could be included in the dimentia quilts. Very best wishes from Sydney Australia.

    1. Dear Janette,
      Your little hanger with your mother-in-law’s interests sounds wonderful! I bet it turned out great. I love that idea of including bits and charms that are special to each person. On the one I made, my girls picked out special beads and we spelled out Grandma’s name. They chose little animals and cats because they knew Grandma always loved animals.
      I’ve also seen some neat ones that are more masculine with nuts and bolts, small measuring tapes, even fishing gear that isn’t sharp. I’ve seen people use plastic kitchen tools and measuring cups or spoons; the possibilities are endless. If you know the patient personally, or the medical facility can give you some guidance for their interests, I think the personal details make it extra special!
      Thank you, and many blessings!
      Sarah

  9. Sarah, so glad I found your fidget lap quilt. My dad is in an Alzheimer’s Assisted Living home. I am a quilter and this is a perfect project for me. I plan to make as many as I can in trDiti9nal male and female colors for dad and his housemates. Thanks,

    1. Dear Cindy,
      I’m so glad this has sparked your creativity and will be a good project for you! The recipients will be very blessed. Feel free to write back and share any great ideas or email pictures, and we can all learn and grow from each other’s progress!
      Happy quilting and many blessings to you and your dad,
      Sarah

  10. This is such a great idea. Do you ever sell your creations? Thinking of this for my ‘fidgrty’ Mother, who is in the early stages. Thanks!

    1. Dear Virginia,
      Thank you! Currently I do not sell any of my projects, some day in the future though possibly! At the moment my young girls help keep my days full, and we recently found out we’ll be moving out of state. Once we’re settled, I hope to devote more time to this blog and making more blankets and other creations.
      However, I just searched on Etsy.com and there are several options there! I hope you can find one that will be perfect for your mother, or we can touch base in a few months to create a special one just for her!
      Thanks again, and many blessings to you and your mother,
      Sarah

  11. Hi Sarah, What a brilliant idea! I will suggest for my upcoming bee to craft a few. Point of interest is that it would be practical to make them durable enough to launder them. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    1. Wonderful! I am so excited to hear about so many people creating their own, and sharing the idea with their crafting circles. And Yes! I couldn’t agree more about being more intentional about making sure the blankets will hold up and considering how they will be laundered. Especially if this is a group setting where there is a possibility where multiple people might use the same blanket, one would want to be sure the blankets would last and be easily cleaned.
      If you think of any other great ideas, please feel free to share!
      Thanks again, and many blessings!
      Sarah

  12. Hi Sarah.
    My Mother has advanced Alzheimer’s. My neighbour is a member of a volunteer group that makes these quilts for patients in our province. My Mom lives in a nursing home in another province. As I am not a quilter, I asked my neighbour to make me one for my Mom and she graciously made a sensory quilt for me to give her. My Mom was always picking at her face, her hair, her clothes. I was amazed when I gave her the quilt, she was immediately drawn to all the little sensory items sewn into it. I crochet and had made a couple of 3 dimensional flowers for it. She loves to touch them. She does not know me at all anymore, but when she touches those flowers and smiles…well it warms my heart. We put pictures of dogs and some faux fur on it and she pats the fur. It has a zipper, buttons, braided rope and the squares themselves are different textures of fabric some with pictures of butterflies, birds, flowers and dogs, all my Mom’s favourite things. It’s in pinks her favourite colour. When she has the quilt on her lap, she hardly touches her face at all.
    These quilts work amazingly.

    Linda from Canada

    1. Dear Linda,
      Thank you so much for sharing! What a beautiful example. I know the blankets are comforting to many patients, but your story brings it all into perspective. The quilt sounds perfect, I love all of the personal details. The fur, flowers, different fabrics, and other items are all wonderful ideas. All of these responses are so inspiring. I’m really looking forward to making more as time allows.
      Thank you again, and many blessings to you, your mother, and all of your loved ones as you move through this season of life in grace. Our thoughts are with you!
      Sarah

  13. My mother-in-law as dementia and resides in a nursing home. I like the Idea of making something useful for her, but I don’t quite understand the connection between dementia and the figety quilt. I would appreciate a bit of explanations, which would guide me in producing something useful for her.

    Thanks

    1. Dear Johanne,
      Some of the biggest benefits caregivers are finding is the calming effect from keeping their patients’ hands and minds active. Often patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia tend to become anxious and restless, especially as the stages progress. Some notice marked improvement from the patients’ nervous fidgeting (pulling on IVs and other medical equipment, picking at their skin, pacing, rocking etc.) the underlining desire is fulfilled by channeling the energy towards the blankets. The quilts also enhance fine motor skills when they can practice simple tasks like buttoning a button, tying a bow, lacing, sewing, and so forth.
      A website I came across, In Our Care, has several wonderful quotes regarding Sensory Quilts. “They help to stimulate curiosity, memories and awareness, provide a sense of purpose and of ‘doing something’, and this having a calming & soothing affect on the user…They are user-friendly, functional, induce comfort and warmth… providing a constant reminder of a family that loves them…It keeps their anxious hands engaged, mind occupied and their legs warm…Because people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia experience an ongoing decrease in their brain’s functions, simple, repetitive movements and sensory experiences become more important.”
      Hopefully this will help give you some additional insight into how you could create a blanket that would be perfect for your mother-in-law. If you have any additional questions or suggestions, please let us know. Several of the other comments above have great suggestions and ideas as well.
      Thank you so much, many blessings to you and your family,
      Sarah

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