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Pleasanton: 'Twiddle mitts' ease anxiety for dementia patients

Knitting group takes on project for neighbors at memory care home

A soft, knit rectangle. Some buttons or beads to fondle. Loose ribbons to quietly explore.

"Memory mitts" bring comfort to residents of memory care units, and those at The Parkview in Pleasanton are the focus of a project just completed by the Pleasanton Senior Center's Friday Knitters Group.

"It's a rectangle mitt you put your hand in, and there are embellishments on the inside and there are embellishments on the outside," knitter Patti Taylor explained. "So it is something tactile to enjoy, explore and touch for comfort. It's something unique they can have for their own."

Grace Gibbons saw the mitts on her daughter's Facebook page with instructions from Poole Hospital in the United Kingdom, where they call them "twiddle mitts" and explain they help dementia patients combat restlessness and agitation, keeping them calm and happy.

Gibbons brought the idea to the knitting group, which she attends regularly.

"When she shared it with us, we just ran with it," Taylor recalled.

Gibbons brought a mitt to The Parkview, which is right next door to the Senior Center, to see if there was any interest for its memory care unit. Parkview activity director Patricia Rawlings responded enthusiastically.

"I said this would be great," Rawlings recalled. "We will give them to the residents, and let them feel it. It's comforting, it's soothing."

The mitts also stimulate conversation.

"We talk about how soft it is. We talk about, did they do any knitting or crocheting when they were young," Rawlings said. "They bring back memories. It's a conversation piece."

The Friday Knitting Group got busy to create 19 of the memory mitts, one for each current resident in The Parkview memory unit. First, Gibbons brought home the big bag of leftover yarn that people donate to the knitters at the Senior Center, knowing the simple mitt pattern was a perfect use for the odd balls of wool.

"I tried to organize them so the colors would look nice, and I put them in packets and added the pattern," Gibbons said. "The members took them home and made really beautiful mitts."

The group has done other projects for good causes, including knitting bears to send overseas to orphanages with mission groups, noted facilitator Stacy Dennig.

"Throughout the year we get charity opportunities, but there is no pressure to do it," Dennig said.

Sometimes a knitter will hold a sort of class for anyone to wants to learn something new. Once they made fingerless gloves. Another time they knit little pockets for holding gift cards.

Taylor said she was pleased with the memory mitt project but not because she needed something to knit.

"I never run out of anything to knit -- period," she said. "I have grandchildren who grow, new friends, someone who's been nice that I want to give something to."

She said the group is good because members come in with new ideas, and there is always someone experienced in case anyone needs help.

"Knitting is very good as we get older because the patterns help keep the brain active, whether it is simple or detailed," Taylor added.

But the memory mitt project is something they all cherish.

"It's a lovely way to give to the community," Taylor said. "It's something unique that someone in memory care can have for their own."

Knotty Naughty Knitters

At the Pleasanton Senior Center, they are called the Friday Knitting Group. But they have another title: the Knotty Naughty Knitters. When a bunch of them went on a 10-day cruise to Alaska in 2013, each one carried a bag with her name and the label, "Knotty Naughty Knitters."

"I went with my mom and my daughter," recalled group facilitator Stacy Dennig.

Dennig started knitting in 2008 when she was on a vacation with her mother-in-law and found she "absolutely loves it." Then in 2010, her husband saw the local knitting group in the Pleasanton activity guide, so she checked it out, with her 6-month-old daughter in a carrier.

Dennig, 36, emphasizes that the group is informal, supportive and for all ages, women and men.

"We have retired teachers, grandparents," she said. "Especially in the summer, we get girls in high school."

Forty-four members receive the monthly newsletter, and about 15-20 show up each week.

Dennig knits scarves, hats, beaded cuff bracelets, dish clothes, baby hats and more. She produces so much that she sells her creations at craft fairs.

"Knitting has lots of health benefits," Dennig said. "It's relaxing, it decreases stress, it lowers blood pressure -- and it's a fun social outing. We laugh a ton."

Nancy McDaniel kicked off the group in 2008 after getting permission from the Senior Center and agreeing the door would stay open to all.

"All I remember is that I was a nervous Nellie on that first Friday. What if you throw a party and nobody comes?" McDaniel said in an email. "I am beyond proud of what the Knotty Naughty Knitters has morphed into."

When McDaniel moved out of state, Dennig began to coordinate the meetings.

"Whether you use one hook or two sticks, come and hang out with us," Dennig said.

Gatherings are from 9-11:30 a.m. each Friday morning and all are welcome. Residents pay $2 per session; non-residents, $2.50. Coffee and tea are available. For more information, email Dennig at stacydennig@gmail.com.

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