5 September 2023

Illawarra volunteer crafts comfort for aged care residents

| Dione David
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When the call went out for fiddle mats at a local hospital, Brenda Evans put her sewing and crafting skills into action. Photo: Supplied.

Fiddle mats crafted by a good samaritan in Cordeaux Heights are being distributed to aged care facilities for the comfort of residents impacted by dementia.

Aged care residents in Milton have already benefitted from the craft prowess of volunteer Brenda Evans, and now people as far-flung as Queensland have their own handmade fiddle mats on the way.

Fiddle mats, also known as fidget mats or sensory blankets, are a sensory tool usually crafted for elderly people with dementia.

The mats are generally small enough to sit on the lap but large enough to accommodate a range of items attached that people can fiddle with, resulting in stress alleviation.

elderly hands play with a colourful fiddle mat

Brenda’s fiddle mats are bringing comfort to aged care residents. Photo: IRT.

Like so many people, dementia is a subject close to home for Brenda. She first looked into the concept when the husband of a close friend was diagnosed with the affliction, but it wasn’t until COVID hit that she really got involved.

“Wollongong Hospital had a bit of problem – they had a box of goodies for people to fiddle with to pass the time in the Emergency Department waiting room, but they had to retire these to minimise the spread of infection,” she explains.

“A lot of people get agitated waiting for their turn, particularly people with dementia, so the hospital put the word out to anyone who could help.

“I had been talking about fiddle mats to another friend and when she heard the hospital was looking for some, she dobbed me in.”

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It was never intended to be more than a response to this cry for help, but when a friend who had previously worked in aged care distributed some of Brenda’s fiddle mats to IRT Sarah Claydon Milton, it snowballed.

“When I first saw those beautiful mats, I thought ‘Oh yes I’ll have some please! They’re fantastic’,” Yvette Tetley IRT Sarah Claydon employee said.

“We’ve given the mats to our residents who are living with dementia and have also sent some up to our other aged care centres in the Shoalhaven including IRT St Georges Basin, IRT Culburra Beach and IRT Greenwell Gardens Nowra.”

Now IRT Home Care Customers in southeast Sydney and some residents of IRT Woodlands Aged Care Centre Queensland have their own handmade fiddle mats on the way.

“My friend first gave 10, then another 10 … All up I have made about 120,” Brenda says.

“No two are the same.”

Brenda says fiddle mats are something anyone in the community can turn their hand to, and are a great way to use up a stash of scrap materials.

She aims to create something colourful and says the key to an effective fiddle mat is texture.

“I have loads of ribbon and lace. I have used pieces of old embroidery I made as a child, different textured fabrics like towelling and velvet, cotton reels and all sorts of bits and pieces. Dollar stores are good sources for the kinds of things you can attach,” she says.

“Zips are always good, because they can zip them up and down, but I usually attach cable ties or beads to make them easier to grasp.

“I also sometimes use things that might trigger memories. I’ve used fabrics with things like Arnott’s biscuit tins and Rosella tomato sauce printed on them. One had Aeroplane Jelly and when my friend delivered it she actually sang the Aeroplane Jelly jingle and the lady she had given it to joined in.

“There’s no end to what you can do.”

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While she can’t commit to specific numbers, Brenda says fiddle mats have been a good way to use skills in her arsenal towards helping others.

“I know a lot of the funds people donate to volunteer services get eaten up in administration and marketing and so on. So it’s good to be able to make goods that you know can be used directly by people who need it,” she says.

“That’s what motivates me. But it also gets me out of doing the housework, which is a bonus.”

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