Senior woman plays with fidget blanket, which can be a tool to ease the nerves of seniors with dementia and anxiety.

Fidget Toys Soothe Seniors with Dementia and Anxiety

Bethesda Health | July 17, 2017

When a senior with dementia is stressed or anxious, you can often see it in their hands.

They tend to pull at their clothes or bedding, rub their skin, wring their hands and twist their fingers when they’re upset, afraid or agitated. These behaviors are how they deal with their discomfort. According to experts, sensory therapy, including the use of “fidget toys,” can safely soothe these seniors by keeping their hands busy in a productive and positive way.

5 Aids For Seniors with Dementia and Anxiety

Items with interesting and varying textures and weight also can capture the attention of seniors with dementia, and help to ease their anxiety and nervousness, according to Tiffany Knebel, a Social Worker at Bethesda Dilworth, a skilled nursing home community located in Oakland, Mo.

“At Bethesda Dilworth, we have 12 handmade fidget blankets for seniors with dementia and anxiety, each of which is made up of 16 squares,” said Tiffany. “Each square features a different color and texture. Some squares have a ribbon attached on both ends, with various items that can be moved back and forth, such as a key, empty spool of thread or rings. Other squares have zippers, strings or Velcro. Fidget blankets are put on the resident’s lap or on the table for them to work with.”

Choosing the Right Fidget Toy for Seniors with Dementia

Fidget blankets, activity aprons and other items created specifically for seniors with dementia can be purchased online for $50-100. However, loved ones can use a little bit of ingenuity and resourcefulness to achieve the same results with household items.

Judy Unger, a Nurse Manager at Bethesda Dilworth, said the most important factor is to tailor the activity or object to the senior’s preference. This is about what calms them. It’s not a test of the senior’s skills or abilities.

“Prior to admission to the Memory Support program at Bethesda Dilworth, we ask our family members to complete a ‘This is me’ story,” Judy said. “This story provides detailed information about the resident’s preferences regarding music, food, what makes them happy, what makes them upset, hobby, crafts, family information, education, occupation and travel. All of this information is important in developing an individualized program for each resident.”

Don’t Forget the Basics in Search of an Easy Solution

An important factor in soothing an agitated senior with dementia is making sure all their health and comfort requirements are met before trying to redirect their attention.

“Nervous behaviors can be exhibited if a basic need is not met.”

If a senior with dementia is hungry, thirsty, in pain, or needs to use the toilet, you may notice these nervous behaviors. Once the basic needs are addressed, behaviors tend to subside and other activities can be introduced.”

Another factor to consider is that what works today may not work tomorrow. As seniors progress through the stages of dementia, or as they become bored with one activity, their caregiver may have to turn to another method of soothing anxiety to achieve the same results.

Everything that is done daily with the resident, like activities of daily living, can be made into an activity for the resident. Activities are used to challenge the resident’s brain and body and to provide them with a purpose daily.

Bethesda encourages family members to participate in activities with seniors with dementia and anxiety to make visits more meaningful. At Bethesda Dilworth, families are provided a list of 101 activities to pursue with seniors at each stage of dementia.

To learn more about caring for your loved with Alzheimer’s, contact Bethesda Memory Support.

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