Twiddling with yarn: Knitters use craft to help residents with alzheimers, dementia

Twiddlemuffs made by the Flying Fingers members come in a variety of colors and textures. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – The Flying Fingers, a community-minded group at The Village at Orchard Ridge, spends two afternoons a week knitting twiddlemuffs for residents at the Orchard Woods Health Center who suffer from cognitive loss, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“As the diseases progress, certain sensories become more prominent over time,” said Molly Edmonston, connectedLiving coordinator. “So, the twiddlemuffs tend to keep their hands and fingers busy with constant movement, which aids in reduction of anxiety.”

Twiddlemuffs are muffs created out of colorful soft yarn that are either knitted or crocheted. Various items such as buttons, ribbons, puffballs and keys are typically but not always sewn inside or outside to keep the residents’ hands occupied while providing a source of tactile, visual and sensory stimulation.

Strings are purposefully left loose on the inside or outside to create texture, which allows residents to twiddle. Thus the name twiddlemuffs.

Flying Fingers member Rhonda Kriz said they started this project based on an article she had read.

“It talked about the importance of sensory and how patients that are going through the various stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia like to have something to do with their hands,” she said.

Since September, the Flying Fingers have made over 36 colorful twiddlemuffs from donated yarn.

“It’s a great way to see the yarn put to use,” Kriz said.

Color and texture play a large role in the design and creation of each muff but members of the Flying Fingers said they don’t follow a pattern. They make it up as they go.

“We make a lot of hats for school kids,” Kriz said. “And this essentially is the same thing as a hat. You start with the ribbing like you would a hat. When you get to the other end, instead of closing it off like a hat, we add more ribbing to create the muff.”

Flying Fingers member Nancy Braswell said she estimates it takes about 12 hours to make a muff.

“I like to use the bulky yarn because it makes it go faster,” she said, adding that she created a pattern to follow, but most end up being random in design.

Edmonston said that as people age, their eye sight changes. “So things that are bright are good for them.”

She added that pastels are soothing for the female residents and bright contrasting colors are good for the male residents.

Roughly 25 residents at Orchard Woods use twiddlemuffs, but in different ways.

Nancy Robeson, 86, a resident of The Village at Orchard Ridge in Winchester, fiddles with one of the twiddlemuffs that was made and donated by The Flying Fingers group. Rich Cooley/Daily

Kriz noted that the twiddlemuffs are multipurpose.

“One, for them to have something to occupy their hands but also if they take them outside they don’t have to put gloves on. They just stick their hands in the muff and they’re kept warm. Two of them wore them to chapel yesterday. It was just so neat to see them come in with the muffs on.”

Other uses include ice pack holders, leg warmers and comfort cloths.

Edmonston said that many of the female residents who wear the muffs are former knitters or crocheters and appreciate the brain to hand stimulation they receive from the muffs.

“Basically, when people are agitated,” Edmonston said “the twiddlemuffs can help calm their mind, increase their mood and keep their hands busy and occupied because sometimes as the disease progress, the agitation levels tend to rise. The muffs aid in self-sooth.”

The cognitive loss neighborhood at Orchard Wood houses 18 residents, and according to assisted living program manager Sue Ayscue, “as an individual develops memory loss, they become more tactile.”

The neighborhood is built on the small house premise where residents have their own personal living quarters but still have the day-to-day, free access to other areas in the building, unlike many nursing homes.

“We really look at each person and honor them individually and what their life pattern has been,” Ayscue said. “It’s important for the team members here not to only understand what happens when someone has cognitive loss and how to best approach, but also the importance of honoring the person. “

The Flying Fingers group is made up of 25 residents, 24 women and one man, who meet twice a week for fellowship and knitting. Each project they take on is a community-based project that allows them to give back with an exception of the items they make for an artisan fair. Past projects include chemotherapy hats, NICU blankets and scarves.

Kriz said they are doing something they love, for a community they love. “It’s a great way to socialize with friends while giving back. And that’s what its about.”