Local residents craft activity mats for senior citizens

Rina Bardo of Farmington, left, and her sister, Martina Eastman of Jay, with some of the activity mats they created for senior citizens suffering from dementia. (Barry Matulaitis/LFA)

By Barry Matulaitis, Staff Editor

JAY — Two local women have put their creativity to good use by creating activity mats (or “Twiddle mats”, in British parlance) for patients at a memory care center in Atlanta.

Martina Eastman, of Jay, said her daughter, Heather Eastman, contacted her in January and asked if there was anyone in a sewing group who could put together the mats. Heather works at Park Springs, a 500-plus member Continuing Care Retirement Community.

So, Martina Eastman called her sister, Rina Bardo of Farmington, and asked if she would be interested in lending a hand.

“We had been sewing together for fun,” said Martina Eastman.

“I’d say Tini is the procurer and I’m the engineer,” said Bardo.

“I got the materials together and we put our creativity to work,” said Martina Eastman.

Heather Eastman said that Park Springs is the first health care center in the United States to adopt a person-centered model of dementia care called the “Butterfly Household Model” from Dementia Care Matters in the United Kingdom. Dr. David Sheard, proprietor and CEO of the model, is leading culture change in the UK, Canada, Ireland, and Australia when it comes to treating dementia patients.

“The core of this social movement for dementia care is that feelings matter most — even when cognition changes or becomes impaired, the heart, spirit, and feelings remain very much intact,” said Heather Eastman. “Recognizing this requires a partnership of deeper and individualized emotional care that also allows for autonomy, joy, purpose, and fulfillment — regardless of the level of disease a person is experiencing.”

Rina Bardo of Farmington, left, and her sister, Martina Eastman of Jay, with some of the activity mats they created for senior citizens suffering from dementia. (Barry Matulaitis/LFA)

In August of 2017, Park Springs’ health care team and organization adopted the model, and are looking to achieve their certification status this August. Heather Eastman is the trainer, coach, and educator for the project with a team of 40 care partners, nurses, CNA’s and staff.

“We are thrilled that my Mom was able to help us out with an important phase of the project,” she said. “This piece involves incorporating the right amount of sensory comfort and stimulation for those experiencing late stage dementia, especially those who may have repetitive movements (and busy hands that tend to pick at clothing or skin). These ‘Twiddle mats’ are wildly popular in the UK and Canada because they offer a multitude of benefits for both the person using it and the care giver.”

Bardo reflected upon the process of creating the 10 mats, which she and her sister were preparing to send to Atlanta.

“I think we started with a pile of clothes that had zippers, buttons, and pockets, things to ‘twiddle’ with,” she said.

One of their friends, Diane McDonald of Jay, also created a mat to send to Heather Eastman.

Martina Eastman explained that the mats have activities that the patients can do, such as zipping and unzipping the zippers, working with the buttons, and touching the different textures of fabric. The mats allow for multi-sensory activities that the patients can do with others.

“We tried to find nice, soft fabrics,” said Martina Eastman.

A butterfly is sewn onto every mat, to reinforce the Butterfly model.

“They just kept being developed and being embellished with one thing or another,” said Bardo.

Bardo did the sewing, while Martina Eastman gathered the materials from different places. It took between five and six hours to create each mat.

All of the mats need to be washable, Martina Eastman added.

“It was such a fun, creative project,” she said.

Heather Eastman listed the following benefits to the Twiddle mats:

-They prevent an empty lap and provide warmth, comfort, and physical contact. Their effect is similar to weighted anxiety blankets that offset discomfort.

-Each mat is unique and offers an array of enjoyment with tactile and sensory measures. Zippers, pockets, buttons, snaps, straps, buckles, and various fabric textures ensure that hands have so many options to stay busy and occupied, and the brain is stimulated as well.

-Care partners can use the mats as a way to engage and connect with a member with warmth and affection. It almost guarantees prevention of boredom or anxiety when one feels alone or uncertain.

-They are fun to look at. The mats are almost like a wearable and whimsical piece of art, stimulating to the senses and interactive.