My mum has dementia and she is in a care home. I know some readers will have strong reactions to that sentence but that's a discussion for another time so for now read on for something interesting I've noticed.
Mum always did craft. She did knit - but not to the obsessive levels of her elder daughter (yours truly). She did dressmaking - even taking a pattern cutting course on adapting clothes for people with disabilities because she wanted to do more for the young people she taught. At one time she had little business sideline making soft toys and selling them through a local shop. She did embroidery and cross stitch, painted watercolours and in more recent years took up card craft.
Although there are craft activities in her residential unit some days, all this is behind mum now but that doesn't mean that even at this fairly advanced stage of her illness that craft doesn't have an impact. It is something that can still engage her, bringing a gleam of interest and animation back in her eyes.
There is an increasing amount of work going on about the therapeutic nature of craft for people with mental health problems, chronic pain and when fighting addiction- for example the work of Stitchlinks, but less so around people who have lost mental capacity.
Yet if I get my knitting out when I visit she reaches out to touch it and asks about it - perhaps several times in a short space of time but that doesn't matter. On one occasion she couldn't remember "Bronagh" being there but talked about the "fast knitting lady".
She can still spot a handmade item and will comment on it - even if the rest of the conversation is related to something in her head. A craft book will hold her attention for a while - on a good day she might comment on the pictures or even read out the title of a pattern or two. In her last weeks at home she could still be engaged in sorting her vast button collection.
Yesterday she even commented on millinery.
We were looking through a photo album and came across pictures of her in various spectacular wedding hats - she could always pull off a dramatic piece of headgear. When I commented on the first with a wide sweeping brim she started to explain what it was made of. No longer able to recall the word she wanted she had a look round and pointed to the front of her radio until I came up with the word - "mesh". Turning to the next hat, a giant poppy, she told me it wasn't mesh but silk - "very different".
And then sadly the gleam was gone. But for a few minutes colour, shape, fabric, construction - something from her craft skills - brought a bit of my Mum to the surface.
I don't know what it is or why but it seems that this still can provide a tiny bridge of contact and engagement. As someone with a professional interest in this area I want to know more - as a daughter I'm just glad it's there.