'Comfort mitts' help people with dementia at The Mount

Staff at The Mount Continuing Care Community hope to make life a little more comfortable for residents with dementia.

Mittens covered in ribbons, bells and buttons are designed to give people something to fidget with

Johanna Halman said she thinks comfort mitts would be helpful for her husband, who has dementia. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Staff at The Mount Continuing Care Community hope to make life a little more comfortable for residents with dementia through a special type of mitten.

A group of staff, residents, and volunteers are knitting the "comfort mitts," which are meant to provide tactile stimulation. Designed as a knitted tube — more of a muff than mittens — they are decorated with odds and ends like buttons and ribbons. The idea is for the wearer to have something to fidget with.

"I hope that we can give the residents some comfort. And just something that maybe ease their mind a little, satisfy their mind," said Jo Collins, a resident care worker at The Mount who is leading the group of knitters.

'Keep their hands busy'

People living with dementia often fiddle with objects like buttons, explained Collins.

"For years they've kept their hands busy with looking after kids and working. So now they'll keep their hands busy with feeling things," said Collins.

Jo Collins said she's seen the benefits of having something to fidget with for people living with dementia. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

The Mount already has a few aprons and quilts decorated with buttons, pockets and zippers, which serve a similar function.

"Some of the residents have used them quite frequently and get a lot of comfort from it. And you can see they kind of really think about what they're doing when they're moving their zippers or playing with buttons," said Collins.

Johanna Halman's husband has dementia, and she said he often moves things around with his hands — like forks and knives on a table. He sometimes uses one of the quilts at The Mount, which Halman said has been helpful.

"When he has something that he can do, then he feels proud of himself. If he can do something … he's happy."

The comfort mitts are decorated with things like ribbons and buttons. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

The knitting group is part of a community school program at The Mount. Both residents and community members are welcome to join.

There are 13 residents in the dementia unit at The Mount, and Collins said if they have extra mitts left over, they will donate them to other groups on P.E.I.

Spreading beyond

Aline Hilton is in P.E.I. visiting her daughter. She stumbled upon the knitting group, and decided to join.

Hilton works at an assisted living residence in Ontario, and said she was really impressed when she heard about the idea of comfort mitts.

Aline Hilton works at an assisted living residence in Ontario. She said she wants to bring the comfort mitts idea back with her. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

"I see the residents sit and play with the ends of their sweaters. Or some of them if they do have a little blanket on, they twiddle the blanket around and twist it in circles," said Hilton.

She had never heard about comfort mitts, or anything like it before.

"I found this very fascinating. And I want to take the idea back home and I want to hopefully spread it," said Hilton.