Creating beautiful blankets for south-west West Australian people living with dementia

A ‘skill swap’ initiative run by the Shire of Manjimup Home and Community Care has led to the creation of beautiful sensory blankets by school students and people living with dementia. 

This multi-generational initiative was made possible through the efforts of many people aiming to make Manjimup Shire a dementia-friendly community, and a $15,000 grant from Dementia Australia. 

The sessions, which were described as ‘profound’ by participants, bought together twenty students, two teaching staff and ten people living with dementia, as they collaborated on the design and sewing of ten sensory blankets. 

These blankets will be enjoyed by people living with dementia who are experiencing boredom, anxiety or simply for general comfort. They also help address isolation of people living dementia and create connections as the blankets can evoke memories and start conversations. 

For Marie, a person living with dementia who is also an alumni of Kearnan College (formerly Sisters of St Joseph’s) from the 1950s and 60s, it was a wonderful experience. 

“It has been lovely mixing with the children, hearing their ideas and noticing how much joy they are getting out of it. We get a lot out of it – just having them here and watching what they do. This has been great. It will be nice to be able to say hello when I see them in the street. It helps to make Manjimup more connected.” 

But it’s not just this initiative which the group has focused on. 

There has also been a monthly get-together of local preschoolers and people living with dementia at the dementia-specific Boronia Club. Each month, the young and young-hearted sing, dance, play games and tell stories. This initiative will continue as feedback has been very positive. 

There were also dementia awareness sessions attended by both primary and high school students from the area.  

The Dementia Australia dementia-friendly language guidelines and a range of other resource have also been shared with teachers from Kearnan College and dementia learning is now embedded into their curriculum. 

The project to make Manjimup dementia-friendly has also extended to multiple art therapy sessions and extensive volunteer training.  

Art therapy sessions specifically for people living with dementia are being held fortnightly at the Manjimup Wellness and Respite Community Centre, where sessions are facilitated by a dementia-trained art teacher and are ongoing. 

Participants have been seen to be generally calmer and less agitated after these sessions, and there are a team of volunteers who are willing to help out. 

These volunteers, and many others, were able to access dementia-related training from July to December 2018 and feedback from the training showed it to be very helpful.

“I learnt strategies for coping with unwanted behaviours.”

“I am aware now about speaking more clearly to people with dementia and at eye level.”

“I now feel more secure about the correct way to approach and interact with a person who has dementia.” 

One of the most positive outcomes from these workshops has been that one person living with dementia is now actively volunteering at the dementia-specific Boronia club, while being sensitively supported by dementia-trained staff. 

Are you interested in what this could look like in your community?

The first step is to become a Dementia Friend. Find out more at dementiafriendly.org.au or call our National Dementia Helpline 1800 100 500.