Volunteers

Creative Twiddle Muffs and Fidget Blankets Keep VITAS Patients Engaged

April 28, 2021
A twiddle muff Wanda created

VITAS volunteer Wanda Hall creates "twiddle muffs," a glove-like tool that helps memory care patients keep their hands engaged in activity.

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 muffs…and meet 65-year-old Wanda Hall, the VITAS Healthcare volunteer in Chicago 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 muffs that served as hand warmers. Each colorful muff features crocheted-in knots and intentionally-crafted 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 Joanna Voorhees, VITAS business manager. “The first day I encountered them ... I took them straight to my general manager and patient care administrator, 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 volunteered for her church’s crocheting/knitting group for about 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.

Two crocheted animals that Wanda created

Wanda also creates small animals that patients can play with to keep their hands busy.

“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 Hall, 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 at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, where VITAS recently donated 10 volunteer-sewn “fidget blankets” for veteran patients.

The quilted blankets feature a variety of interactive elements—zippers, beads, buttons, pockets, neckties, wrist watches and watch bands, neckties, shoestrings, and the like—to encourage attention and manipulation. Admission Liaison Carole Quackenbush calls the blankets “wonderful tools” for veterans struggling with dementia and neurological symptoms.

A collage of the Cincinnati team presenting the fidget blankets and photos of individual blankets

Cincinnati volunteers crafted fidget blankets and donated them to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center for patients there.

‘So Many People You Can Help...’

Wanda credits her childhood and family with sparking an interest in knitting and 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—out of colorful yarn throughout her life.

She’s thrilled that the creative pastime she enjoys so much brings joy to others.

“There are so many places and so many people you can help,” she says.