My homemade fidget cushion inspired by my granny's dementia

Ting Ting's granny, Marion, had Alzheimer's. Following her death, Ting Ting was intrigued by how cushions can be used to trigger the memory of someone with dementia, and started a textile project inspired by her granny's past.

My name is Ting Ting and I am a second year Textile Design student in my second year of university. My most recent project was looking at the use of textiles to improve the life experience of people with dementia.

My main inspiration was my step-dad's mum, my granny, who had dementia for several years before her death earlier this year. 

Ting Ting with her granny

Ting Ting and her granny, Marion

Granny's diagnosis

Her diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease was expected. At first, my Dad and his brothers probably just thought she was getting forgetful as she got older.

She was buying groceries even when she didn't need them and would not remember recent events.

Nevertheless, she was independent and looking after herself satisfactorily. Later, she was hospitalised with a liver infection and she had sepsis which affected her mentally.

After this, she changed so that she did not want to be on her own at any time. She recovered slowly from the sepsis, but it was clear that she also had many of the signs of dementia and discussions with the doctor led to an evaluation which made the expected diagnosis.

She had lived with us for some time before going into a care home about one year before she died. Up until the final few weeks, she was outgoing and enjoyed chatting with staff and the other people in the home.

Like me, she also enjoyed crafting - even making her own teddy bear.

A picture of a small teddy that Marion crafted

A small teddy, crafted by Marion

Fond memories

Her memory was not good, but she had her favourite memories and stories which would be regularly repeated. 

When chatting with her, it was always possible to talk her into an area that she had memories of.  

For instance, when she was a teenager, she was in a cycling club and she loved to tell you about a time the club cycled from West Cornwall to Plymouth, danced all evening and then cycled back the next day. She could tell you what bike she had, where she bought it from and how much it cost.

An old photograph of Ting Ting's granny, Marion, pictured sitting on her bicycle

Despite Marion's memory problems, she would talk about her love of cycling

How granny inspired my textile work

I began looking at fidget cushions and I realised that Granny could have used these in the periods of anxiety that she sometimes had. 

However, I also realised that I was not going to create anything new as there are a wide variety of these available. Instead, I began to think about how a cushion could be used to trigger the memory of someone with dementia.

Whilst Granny is no longer with us, it seemed appropriate to make a cushion that she would have found useful.

In fact it was a therapeutic process for me and my family.

I talked to members of my family and began to think of thing that I could put onto a cushion to trigger her memories.

Eventually I included all the family names in a four-heart shaped design. I also included a few photos using key fobs designed to take a small insert.  

The front of Ting Ting's fidget cushion inspired by her granny, featuring four red hearts in a circle, a stitched Cornish pasty, and various other colourful objects

One side of Ting Ting's fidget cushion inspired by her granny shows the love the family have for her

Her Cornish heritage was shown by the flag and a county badge. There was also a Cornish Pasty as one recent memory that she managed to retain was teaching everyone in the care home how to make a real Cornish pasty.

I also made a print of a bicycle wheel to trigger her cycling memories.

Ting Ting's granny, Marion, pictured making Cornish pasties during an activity set up in her care home

Marion taught others in her care home to make real Cornish pasties

Granny was also happily married for 45 years. Grandad was in the Fleet Air Arm when they met and later spent 30 years as a policeman. So, I used anchor designs to signify the Navy and police buttons and Grandad’s collar number to trigger police memories.

I also included lots of place names that were important to her as well as a house number and year of birth.

The back of the fidget cushion inspired by Ting Ting's granny, featuring stitched names of the places she lived, her birth date and various other colourful objects

The other side of Ting Ting's cushion features the names of all the places that were important to her granny

Overall, I am pleased with the result. I wish that I had made it a year ago as I think she would have liked it.

Instead, I thought  that I would share in case it helps anyone with ideas to make their own for a loved relative or to think how they could personalise a bought fidget cushion with a few elements.

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I've recently had to admit that my husband was getting way to much for me to look after and have placed him in a residential and nursing home where I know he will get care that I can no longer give him.

The care and attention you have put into creating this cushion really shows what your Granny meant to you. I hope making it has helped you in coping with your loss. Perhaps that was the reason it was made after your Granny Marion passed. So kind of you to share the idea, as I think it's something my Mum would enjoy, thank you Ting Ting.

Thanks for this idea. My husband has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
I made a puzzle muff for my friends husband with lots of things to fiddle with, he had a condition which seemed not to fit into any category and was progressive. He just couldn’t figure out my muff but his granddaughter would sit on his lap and play with it so ….
I also made a muff for my mother in law, she was always cold and this gave her somewhere warm for her hands, I’d knitted it with many different wools, colours and stitches and embroidered her name , put buttons, made it so it could turn inside out.
Anyway I think I will have to think of ideas to suit my husband and get the sewing machine out, and maybe even the knitting needles.
I’ve looked but can’t find photos of those creations which were passed on

Something I have designed a special glove to provide comfort, confidence and support for those living with dementia. After seeing so many people distressed or not eating and drinking well. As the number one problem is dehydration and pneumonia.
I wanted to change the mindset of caregivers to carepartners by engaging loved ones in the eating process. So I designed a specialized glove. :) This has help many people living with Dementia that I have worked with. I just wanted to share this with you and caregivers across the world so hopefully it can help them as well. If someone can email me, I can send them some pictures and the website - if you'd like to see this specialized glove. I'm in the USA

What a beautiful sentiment your fidget cushion is. One I'm sure your loved one will have much enjoyment with. :) Keep the light shining!