Dementia Care: How to Make a Twiddlemuff!

What is a Twiddlemuff?

Twiddlemuffs are brightly coloured tubes - or muffs - big enough to slide hands inside. These muffs are made from wool or other soft, warm fabrics, and their outer surface is liberally decorated with a wide variety of buttons, bows, beads, loops, fluffy bits and even tinkly cat bells.

They are easy and economical to make. You can use oddments from your sewing box and left-over wool or fabric from other projects.

Twiddlemuffs are a recognised aid in dementia care. They warm chilly hands and give restless fingers something to twiddle with, distracting the dementia suffer from pulling at their own skin, hair or clothing, PEG feed tubes or IV tubes. They can engage those whose attention span has been impaired by disease or by a head injury, and help soothe anxiety in those for whom the world has become a very confusing and unnerving place.

Twiddlemuffs are sometimes called Dementia Sleeves. Personally, I'm not keen on that term as it sounds too negative. As an Activity Co-ordinator who has worked with vulnerable elderly people for many years, my approach has been to remind dementia sufferers of the enjoyable, positive aspects of their lives, and I feel that labelling a useful aid with a name which could be interpreted in a derogatory light might deter someone from using it and therefore benefitting from it.

It's Easy to Make a Twiddlemuff!

Twiddlemuff modelled by Richard Cosgrove-Bray
Twiddlemuff modelled by Richard Cosgrove-Bray

Dementia Colours

People with dementia can benefit from having strong and contrasting colours around them. There has been considerable research into the use and benefits of bold colours for dementia patients.

As people age, their eyes tend to deteriorate. Common conditions include the need for increased light and a greater sensitivity to glare, combined with a reduced depth of perception and reduced peripheral vision. For a dementia sufferer, this adds to the confusion they already experience.

Pastel colours, which are often considered to represent good taste, can be too bland and too similar to enable a dementia sufferer to readily differentiate between them, whereas strongly contrasting colours can aid navigation round the home, reducing both confusion and accidents. Using bright red crockery has been found to help increase the amount of food and fluid ingested by dementia sufferers.

Twiddlemuffs made from bold, contrasting stripes of vivid colours can help to engage their user's attention more readily than if they had been made from pretty pastels.

Make a Twiddlemuff!

Knit or crochet a large square in bold, contrasting stripes of wool. The square need not be an exact size, but it needs to be big enough so that once two opposite end have been joined to form the tubular muff, its user can comfortably slide their hands inside.

If you are a more confident knitter, you could add a stretchy cuff at either end of the Twiddlemuff.

You can buy left-over balls of wool quite economically from many charity shops, or you can use up wool left over from previous projects. Use bright, contrasting colours for best effect, and to most benefit the intended user.

You might consider adding extra texture for further sensory stimulation by including some very fluffy wool, ribbon or thick silky threads. Sensory stimulation is important for dementia sufferers, as it helps encourage reality orientation (the awareness of self and surroundings).

If you are more skilled with knitting and crochet, you might add loops of threads as part of the Twiddlemuff, to give something extra for its intended user to twiddle with. Anything which helps to engage their intention is good.

If You Can Knit or Crochet a Square, You Can Make a Twiddlemuff!

Knit a simple square to make a Twiddlemuff.
Knit a simple square to make a Twiddlemuff.

Video Demonstration of Making Twiddlemuffs with Knitting, Crochet or from an Old Jumper!

Alternative Twiddle Ideas!

If you can't knit at all, or simply haven't the time, then you can make something similar to a Twiddlemuff by using fleece fabric, which is soft and warm to the touch and which launders easily. Cut a square of fleece measuring approximately 12" x 12" (bigger if you prefer), then decorate it with odds and ends from your sewing box just as you would with the knitted Twiddlemuff. Then sew the fleece along one side to form the tubular muff.

Twiddle blankets draped over a lap help to keep elderly legs warm. These can be decorated as before, with buttons, tinkly bells, beads, pompoms, pockets, zips or anything else you can think of which could give restless fingers something to twiddle with.

Twiddle cushions can be designed in any shape, such as hearts, triangles or non-symmetrical shapes. The cushions could be knitted or made from fabric. I'd advise choosing a bold coloured fabric which can stand regular laundering, and which has an interesting texture to lend an additional note of interest.

Twiddle toys are similar in idea to the twiddle cushions but designed with a specific shape, such as a cat or dog which are are great for animal lovers, or simple flowers for those who've loved gardening.

The shapes of twiddle cushions and twiddle toys supply additional visual and sensory interest for the person with advanced dementia.

Raid Your Sewing Box for Twiddlemuff Treasures!

Decorate your Twiddlemuff with buttons, beads, ribbons and other oddments from your sewing box.
Decorate your Twiddlemuff with buttons, beads, ribbons and other oddments from your sewing box.

Decorate Your Twiddlemuff!

Twiddlemuffs can be decorated with a huge variety of economical items. Choose for colour and texture. Raid your sewing box for buttons, beads or bits of ribbon which were all going to come in handy for some future project but never did - until now!

Many charity shops sell bags of odd buttons or part-balls of wool for a few pence. Old or broken jewellery can be a source of interesting beads which you might use.

You might make your own pompoms and attach these, or create texture by using very fluffy wool, other fabrics, or by deliberately crocheting loops of wool into the Twiddlemuff. Strings of beads or plaited string, cotton or wool can add more texture and something else for dementia suffers to twiddle with.

Small pockets, animal faces, buttons which fasten under loops, or zips which can be opened to reveal another fabric beneath might also be incorporated into your design.

The important thing, however, is to ensure all twiddle bits are very securely fastened onto the body of the Twiddlemuff, as people with dementia will pull and tug on them quite firmly, especially if they are feeling anxious.

Video of Twiddlemuff Making (AKA Dementia Sleeves)

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© 2016 Adele Cosgrove-Bray

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