Nova Scotia

How two friends provide comfort for dementia patients by making quilts

Beth McBrine and Cathy Dunbar make quilts for people with dementia. The quilts feature images and textures meant to spark memories and conversation.

Beth McBrine and Cathy Dunbar have made nearly 500 quilts since January 2018

Beth McBrine and Cathy Dunbar create fidget quilts they send nationwide to family members and caregivers of people with dementia. (The 2 Fidgeteers)

Pull, fold. Pull, fold. Pull, fold.

All day, every day, Barb Allen's 93-year-old mother would sit in her Nova Scotia long-term care home, pulling tissues out of a box and folding them — an obsessive routine that came with her advanced dementia.

So, when Allen saw Facebook posts about lap quilts meant to comfort people with dementia, she got one.

Fidget quilts, also called activity blankets, have a mix of patterns, textures and features like keys, zippers and crinkly fabric that are meant to engage the people who receive them.

Allen's mother was enthralled.

"Oh, she couldn't take her eyes off it," said Allen.

Now, a couple months later, it remains on her mother's lap.

Beth McBrine and Cathy Dunbar are the creators behind the quilts from Hants County, N.S.

They call themselves The 2 Fidgeteers and make every blanket they give to family members and caregivers of people with dementia.

"It's a labour of love," said Dunbar.

They don't charge for the blankets, but make them for those who ask. Both women work part-time and estimate they spend up to 24 hours each sewing quilts per week.

The donations they receive in money and fabric allow them to keep quilting.

Dunbar's mother died in 2015 after a stay in a long-term care facility. In 2018, Dunbar saw information online about fidget quilts and knew from spending time with her mother in the care home that there was a need for them.

McBrine's father had dementia and had a constant habit of folding and unfolding newspapers.

She asked for a quilt when she heard about her friend's project and Dunbar agreed, but told McBrine she would have to help. Now, they've made nearly 500 quilts that they've sent as far as British Columbia.

Close to home

Dunbar and McBrine said that because most of the quilts stay in rural Nova Scotia, the blankets that have a farm theme or feature cats and dogs are the most popular.

The quilts can spark memories in dementia patients or spark a connection. For example, there is a key on every quilt because, the Fidgeteers say, everyone identifies with a key.

McBrine also said she knows from experience with her father that it can be hard to converse with people with dementia. But, she said, "just picking something off the quilt can often be a very good place to have a conversation."

"We don't often see what happens with the recipients as much as how it impacts the caregivers and can buy some time for them to do other things," said McBrine.

Yvette Gagnon owns Comforting Companions, a business that helps families with loved ones in the long-term care system. She's taken two-dozen fidget quilts to people in the facilities she visits.

"It makes them feel so good in that moment," she said. "Everyone, no matter where they are in life, want to continue with health and well-being."

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