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Fidget mats encourage fine motor skills, sensory stimulation for people with Alzheimer’s disease

April 27—True to their mission to be of service to their community, members of the Clustered Spiers Quilt Guild work on several projects throughout the year and donate quilts and blankets – and sometimes rugs -household – to individuals, non-profit organizations, senior centers and others in need in the Frederick area.

Fidget rugs are small sewn quilts that include various trinkets and fabric textures. They are designed for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as certain autism spectrum disorders, to engage and keep their hands busy. They are relatively small, so that they can be placed on a person’s lap or on a table in front of them.

Last fall, guild members created brainstorming mats to donate to Homewood’s dementia unit. Olga Schrichte, a longtime quilter and guild member, taught members her method of making rugs and demonstrated examples.

“Think of it as an activity mat for an adult rather than a child,” Schrichte said.

Several members have created additional rugs to give away to friends and family.

Guild member Becky Lyon created two for her friend Sally Sinn’s husband.

“When he came home from rehab, Becky came with his prototype, and it was a hit. He responded to it so well,” recalls Sinn, who cares for her husband at their home. “I hung it on the wall so he could reach out at night and smell it.”

Sinn’s husband, Alvin Barnes, is 88 and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about 10 years ago. Sinn said his illness is advanced to the point where he explores his world through touch and tactile sensations. He hasn’t been able to respond to a vision test for about two years, so she’s unsure of his ability to see, which makes the sense of touch all the more important.

“He’s going to reach out and touch my sweater,” she said. “It’s important for him to relate to his world in this way. Brainstorming mats soothe him in two ways: it’s something he can handle with his fine motor skills and it’s familiar to him. When he’s at the table, I can see he’s reaching for the unrest mat if he’s not in front of him.”

Lyon said anyone with a sewing machine and basic sewing skills can learn how to make a stir rug and customize it for the recipient. They can be as simple or elaborate as you want.

“Birthdays and Christmas were coming, and what are you getting her?” Sinn said about her husband. “Fidget rugs were the perfect gift for him.”

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MAKE YOUR OWN FIDGET MAT

The basics

Mats have three layers, much like a comforter: the top fabric, the flannel backing, and a stabilizer in between. Flannel is an excellent stabilizing fabric. Whichever stabilizer you choose, it shouldn’t be too soft or too firm.

Mats should be small enough to fit on the lap and are usually a little larger than a placemat, but not too large to be overwhelming.

An alternative to a fidget mat, for the more advanced dressmaker or seamstress, is a fidget apron – a wearable fidget mat.

Choose a theme

Find fabric and items suitable for the person you are making the mosquito repellent mat for. Think about that person’s hobbies and favorite color combinations when you find fabric and other items for the bustle mat. Do they like butterflies? Baseball? Gardening? The ocean? You can find just about anything on the fabric. You can also print family photos onto fabric to bring personal memories to the project.

You might want to incorporate an item of their clothing or an old key or coin or favorite piece of jewelry.

What to include:

– a variety of fabric textures, such as satin, lace, minkee, corduroy, cork, leatherette, mesh, etc. (scrap fabric is available at most sewing and craft stores)

—a variety of shapes

—a variety of colors

—buttons, snaps, zippers, ribbon, string, beads, laces, bells, etc. to provide sensory stimulation

– pockets that open and close to hold items or a clear vinyl window to hold a photo of a loved one’s pet

Tips:

Make sure everything on the rug is machine washable and durable.

Secure all items to the mat or provide a place to store them, such as a pocket that closes with Velcro.

Don’t use a slippery fabric like satin on the back, as you don’t want it sliding off a table or your lap. Olga Schrichte recommends using flannel on the back.

For detailed instructions and resources, see https://4h.ucanr.edu/files/287219.pdf.

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