Art Lindenbach smiles as he watches his wife, Faye, touch the tiny objects on the activity mat in front of her.
A resident at Gateby Care Facility, Faye used to enjoy sewing but now living with the effects of both dementia and Parkinson’s disease and recovering from a broken pelvis, she is confined to a wheelchair.
“This calms her down and the other good part is that she can do this for up to one and a half hours,” said Art, who moved from Surrey to Vernon with Faye in 2014. “I’m here quite a bit, for two or three hours at a time, and she will play with this for a long time.”
The activity mat is one of many that have been donated for Gateby residents by Best Friends Quilters group in Armstrong, and Irene Cinnamon in Vernon. Cinnamon was looking for a new hobby when she came across the idea for the activity mats on Facebook.
“I told everyone what I was doing and got a lot of stuff from garage sales and when I tell people what I’m doing I end up getting a lot of things for free, also the Schubert Centre donates anything I need, and quilting friends give me their scraps,” she said. “And I went to Fishers Hardware and they gave me keys which they polished up and gave them all to me.
“It’s been amazing. I donated them to Gateby and to a place in Penticton. I try to use a variety of things to help people remember activities they used to do, such as fishing, so I have fishing lures, horses, dogs, buttons. My father had dementia and so I have that connection to people with dementia.”
The activity mats are the size of a large place mat with a variety of objects attached: anything that can be touched, such as a plastic spoon, the clasp of a dog collar, ribbon or zippers. Key rings are attached so that objects can be removed or added as needed.
As Faye busies herself with the activity mat, fellow Gateby resident Chesley Howard wastes no time familiarizing herself with the various objects attached to a twiddle muff, made by the craft group at Desert Cove.
Vivian Caldwell and Johanna Zalcick are members of the the craft group, which has made the hand-knit muffs and covered them inside and out with a variety of objects, everything from a tiny purse to crocheted flowers and pompoms, while the soft, fluffy yarn is soothing to the touch.
“One of the ladies in our group had heard of these, and we have done 75 of them,” said Caldwell. “It’s good for us — we have an hour together to chat and visit and then finish them off at home.”
Marijon Schindel is manager of program services at Gateby and she said the machine-washable activity mats have been a big hit with residents.
“On this floor, we have people with a higher level of dementia, and with that comes confusion and they can become closed off to the world around them so this gives them something to do, and really helps with the agitation,” she said. “Faye used to sew and she does not need anything else to keep her engaged. She looks at the activity mat and she remembers from long ago that she used to sew, she is connecting with the deeper memories because there is such confusion, such agitation, and saying things like ‘I have to go home,’ or if they are tired and to be able to give them something like this to help them through the difficulty of their days — we are so happy to have this resource available for our residents with dementia.”
Recreation therapist Michelle Bojda said both the activity mats and the twiddle muffs have been extremely helpful in keeping residents engaged, and helping to connect them to their past.
“Chesley used to breed horses with her family and so she has a connection with that horse on the activity mat,” said Bojda. “It fills the gaps. And Faye, when she didn’t have the table with the activity mat or twiddle muff, she would bend over and fiddle with her shoelaces, which is hard on her back. Now she is able to use these and she can be in a comfortable sitting position. She is looking at something to do that related back to what she used to do, when she was busy and active.
“And with arthritis if they don’t move their fingers it gets difficult so this keeps them active and Faye is able to grab the beach ball in our activity programs well, so it’s getting them the small motor skills. It’s so rewarding for these ladies who made these for us and knowing it’s for a good cause.”
For Art, seeing his wife engaged in an activity is proof that he made the right choice in moving to Vernon and in moving Faye into Gateby.
“Our kids live here and they wanted us to move closer. We were in the process of moving when Faye broke her pelvis and we looked at different places,” said Art, adding that his wife also enjoys looking at books, especially books with dogs. “This is the one we picked and it’s been a good move because of the location — in the summertime I can take her outside for walks because we are right downtown.”