By Chelsea Cook-McCarrell, General Manager for VITAS® Healthcare
Anyone who has ever witnessed the agitated and nervous behavior of a patient with dementia or Alzheimer’s, or seen nursing home residents in wheelchairs seemingly staring into space for hours on end:
Meet twiddle muff—and meet 65-year-old Wanda, a VITAS Healthcare volunteer who makes them.
The twiddle muff does exactly what its odd name implies: It’s a glove-like sleeve for the hands, similar to old-fashioned hand-warming muffs. Each colorful muff features crocheted-in knots and bunches of yarn that encourage patients to keep their hands and minds occupied by “twiddling away” with the muff’s sensory, whimsical features.
“These twiddle muffs have tactile elements that keep our patients constantly engaged,” says the VITAS business manager who discovered them while visiting a local church’s knitting-crocheting group. “The first day I encountered them, I took them straight to my team, telling them how phenomenal they would be for all of our memory care patients.”
‘Something to Make Them a Little Happier’
Wanda, the creative genius behind the muffs, has belonged to the crocheting group for 12 years.
The average twiddle muff is about the size of an oversized glove that fits over a patient’s hand. A variety of elements and textures encourage touching, feeling, and “twiddling,” such as a string of different-sized knots, long thick appendages, or tightly packed balls or bumps.
She also crochets tiny yarn animals that are donated to a pediatric hospital and VITAS hospice patients. Others in her group knit and crochet blankets, afghans, hats, mittens, and other comfort items for missions, crisis centers, veterans’ programs, children’s hospitals, shelters, and VITAS patients.
“I really wanted to make the twiddle muffs to give patients and nursing home residents something to do, something to keep them busy and maybe make them a little happier,” Wanda says. “I try to make anything they can play with. I’m now making turtles that can be held like a pet, and I can make other items, too, like dolls and bunny rabbits with long, floppy crocheted ears. The patients can swing them around by their ears, if they want.”
Engaging, Tactile, and Utilitarian
Each muff, according to Wanda, takes about 12 hours to make: 8 hours for the glove-like shell, and another 3-4 hours for the doodads that she adds as she crochets for texture and interaction.
Similar creativity is at work by another VITAS volunteer team who recently donated 10 volunteer-sewn “fidget blankets” for veteran patients. The quilted blankets feature a variety of interactive elements—zippers, beads, buttons, pockets, neckties, watches, and shoestrings—to encourage attention and manipulation. The blankets are wonderful tools for veterans struggling with dementia and neurological symptoms.
‘So Many People You Can Help’
Wanda credits her childhood and family with sparking an interest in crocheting.
“When my brother and I were little, my grandmother would babysit us, and she felt that we needed something constructive to do,” she recalls. “I don’t know how she did it, but she sat us both down and taught us how to knit. I knitted my first scarf when I was about 12.”
Wanda soon realized she preferred crocheting over knitting, and has been creating hats, scarves, gloves, animals—and yes, twiddle muffs—ever since. She’s thrilled that her creative pastime brings joy to others.
“There are so many places and so many people you can help,” she says.
Learn more about fulfilling volunteer opportunities at VITAS.com/Volunteer or call 309.691.2381.
For additional informative and inspirational articles visit 50 Plus News and Views Greater Peoria Metro Area edition online today.