Suzie Leonardi from Pennant Hills (right), makes sensory blankets which are often used to stimulate a client who is confined to a wheelchair and has dementia, like some residents at Arcare Glenhaven.
Suzie Leonardi from Pennant Hills (right), makes sensory blankets which are often used to stimulate a client who is confined to a wheelchair and has dementia, like some residents at Arcare Glenhaven.

When a blanket is much more than a comfort

WHEN Suzie Leonardi started sewing for the first time at the age of 50, little did she suspect that her new skills would be put to good use helping those in her neighbourhood who are suffering from dementia.

Now she is hoping to get others to jump in and help out too.

Suzie, from Pennant Hills, last year started making sensory blankets for residents at Arcare Glenhaven after picking up the skills through her sewing group, Carlingford Baptist Church's Teapot Ministry.

Suzie explained that her sewing group attended a Church Charity Day where they were shown how to make the blankets which would be distributed to dementia clients at a number of aged care residences.

Sensory blankets are made by taking different materials and items and using them too create a blanket which provides warmth and comfort while also engaging both the mind and hands through the tactile feel of the items sewn into the blanket.

"I had been making the blankets with my sewing group which met once a fortnight when my daughter, who is a chef at Arcare Glenhaven, asked me if I could run a few up for the residents," Suzie said.

"I enjoy making the blankets with my group so was happy to contribute where I could."

Suzie, a swim teacher for children with special needs and a teacher's aide before her retirement, has now donated three sensory blankets for residents with Dementia to Arcare Glenhaven.

"I use a range of materials and textures," she said. "Corduroy, lace, velvet, rope, zippers, rods, rubber balls, cellophane are all good materials to use for the blankets. I also did one with jean pockets all over it.

"The only limit is imagination."

Arcare Lifestyle Coordinator Chloe Pearson explained the sensory blankets

"We find the sensory blankets can also be used to help reduce boredom which can lead to behaviours such as chewing on clothing or becoming agitated," Chloe said.

"The blankets help clients to focus on a simple activity and that can help to reduce an escalation of agitated states because they allow them to fidget with different features on the blankets. They are also warm and comfortable which creates a sense of security and comfort."

Ms Pearson said clients with dementia enjoy the process of engaging with the different fabrics, textures and objects which are used to make the sensory blankets.

"Some of our clients with dementia are non-verbal so we have to pay close attention to their facial reactions to gauge their emotional reactions," she said. "It is interesting to note the smiles and level of engagement when they become curious about the different objects and textures which make the blanket."

Arcare does hold art and craft activities at each of its residences such as sewing and knitting, believing it helps clients connect with activities of their youth and gives them a creative outlet.

"These are important hobbies for some of our clients because they are used to doing these activities from their earliest years," Ms Pearson said. "Many of them also made a lot of their clothing, their children's clothing and toys.

"Our classes allow them to re-use those skills and to also use those skills to help other clients. It often leads to conversation where they begin to reminisce about the good old days allowing them to build strong friendships and creates a sense of belonging and community within the residence."

Ms Pearson explained Arcare Glenhaven is now looking to build partnerships with other community organisations to work on knitting and sewing projects to keep resident's engaged and motivated.

And Suzie is also harbouring her own plans to make her own meaningful contribution.

"I am hoping that when new residents with dementia come in, we can find out a little more about them so we can personalise the blankets with materials and items sewn in which are meaningful to them," she said. "I have found a new passion and it is something I can do from home. It keeps me busy and is a great way to help others.

"If people want to know more about making sensory blankets, they can look up Teapot Ministries or ask through their church to see how they can contribute."

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