When I did the research for my book, Crochet Saved My Life, one of the things that I learned about was how crochet could help people in various stages of age-related memory loss. A recent article about art therapy in a Chicago senior community shows that any type of craft can offer similar benefits.
Crochet for Late-Stage Alzheimer’s
My research found that crochet has the potential to help prevent age-related memory loss including dementia and Alzheimer’s. The research is too new to say that for sure, but there are hopeful signs. Moreover, it can serve as a protective factor for people in early stages of the disease. That means it may slow down the progression of memory loss. Furthermore, it can help to combat the symptoms suffered by people with late-stage Alzheimer’s.
For example, one of the symptoms that people struggle with is restless fidgeting. I wrote in Crochet Saved My Life:
“One clear benefit of crochet is that if a person with Alzheimer’s can do the stitches then it will help to keep the hands and mind busy. Many of the sources that I read about working with Alzheimer’s patients mentioned the problem of “agitated hands”. The Alzheimer’s patient gets restless and fidgets and this is likely a sign of internal distress. It can also be dangerous because those idle fidgeting hands may get into trouble that the individual doesn’t even realize is trouble until something disastrous has happened. Oftentimes Alzheimer’s patients will go rummaging through things, which is fine unless what they’re rummaging in is dangerous. Sometimes they will start to pick at their own skin. Keeping the hands busy with something like crochet helps maintain the safety of the individual and anyone else in the home.”
Crochet, or any craft that occupies the minds and hands, can help channel that fidgeting energy.
Additional Benefits of Crafting for Age-Related Memory Loss
Of course, fidgeting is just one problematic symptom of age-related memory loss. In an article in the Chicago Tribune, writer Bill Lowe writes about an arts and crafts program for seniors. He cites the following additional benefits of crafting for people with age-related memory loss:
1. Reduces Anxiety
People living with memory loss often experience anxiety. After all, gaps in memory and feeling fuzzy about what’s happening around you are frightening things. Hands-on crafts help soothe the mind and reduce the symptoms of anxiety.
2. Offers Self-Expression
People who have age-related memory loss often lose their ability to fully communicate with others. This can feel like losing the self. Crafting offers an opportunity for self-expression. Creating something gives people a voice again.
3. Evokes Memories
People who struggle with memory loss may be comforted by the positive memories that they do have. Many older people enjoyed crafting when they were young. Returning to those same crafts evokes those positive memories. Lowe writes, “For example, residents in CMSS’ embroidery group have all enjoyed embroidering throughout their lives. In this group, they can reconnect with a meaningful practice, which often provides a sense of comfort and self-assurance.”
4. Provides Community
People with memory loss need to stay connected to others around them. Of course, this is challenging when you have trouble remembering things. Oftentimes memory loss leads to depression or anxiety, which can cause people to isolate themselves. Crafting in a group provides a safe space for connecting with others.
When you can’t rely on your memory, it helps to focus on the present. Mindfulness practice allows people to be content in the moment. Crafting provides an opportunity for practicing a hands-on form of mindfulness, attending directly to the details in the craft.
Anyone living with chronic illness, especially something degenerative such as age-related memory loss, may begin to feel purposeless. Crafting for others can offer purpose, reminding the person that they still have the ability to give to people.
Tips for Crafting through Age-Related Memory Loss
Of course, crafting doesn’t always come easily to people with age-related memory loss. They may not quite be able to remember how to do a craft they once enjoyed. They may learn a new craft only to have forgotten it by the next time a new craft group meets. Regardless, they can still reap the benefits of simple craft projects. Working with easy techniques, following straightforward instructions, and beginning with a guided project (instead of a blank slate) will all help facilitate crafting for people struggling with these issues.