Elsie Legge is a busy lady. At least her hands are. And if the old saying, ‘busy hands are happy hands’ is true – then it’s safe to say Elsie is happily exploring her new apron.
But it’s no ordinary apron. It’s known as a ‘sensory’ or ‘activity apron,’ and it’s part of her therapeutic care as a long-term care resident of Pleasant View Towers in St. John’s.
It’s likely not the first apron 74-year old Elsie has worn in her lifetime. Which in many ways is the point. It’s a familiar garment – within close reach, decorated with everyday items like buttons and braids, ribbons and zippers. And it accomplishes a few things:
A sensory apron gives a person often confined to a wheelchair something to focus their attention on – something to do with their hands. In more clinical terms – it offers an opportunity to exercise both fine motor skills – and gross motor skills.
And…it becomes something to talk about. This is especially important for people with dementia, like Elsie. And for her daughter Colleen.
“You can see that it’s something to keep my mother occupied, to keep her mind stimulated,” Colleen says. “My mother can’t carry on a conversation, but this apron is a kind of conversation piece between us.”
Rebecca Maloney agrees. She’s a recreation development specialist at Pleasant View Towers, and the person who introduced the idea of the aprons to the residents – and their families.
“These aprons can open up conversations and memories – the colours of the decorations on them – the fact that residents used to sew themselves,” says Rebecca. “We’ll show the aprons to the residents, and watch to see which ones they gravitate towards. Then we match an apron to a resident, and it becomes part of their plan of care, for times when their hands are restless, or they become anxious or bored.”
Meanwhile, the ‘hands’ behind the aprons themselves belong to the women of the St. Philip’s Women’s Institute – a grassroots organization that contributes to the wellbeing of their community. They donate food and money to local food banks and other charities, make personal support items for the Canadian Cancer Society – and this year, for the first time – they tried their hand at sensory aprons.
Member Wendy Decker, who is also a nurse coordinator with Eastern Health’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, was the liaison between the two groups.
“Our Women’s Institute (WI) group was looking for a new project and I was aware that there was a need to help the people residing at Pleasant View Towers,” Wendy says. “A nursing colleague gave me Rebecca’s name and she came to speak with our group about the aprons on their ‘wish list.’ The ladies set their minds on the task and put their sewing machines into motion – and the rest is design history!”
The result? Twenty-nine sensory aprons, which a delegation from the St. Philip’s Women’s Institute hand-delivered to Pleasant View Towers on May 11, for distribution among men and women with dementia.
Elsie Legge was there – and the women got to meet her – and see their handiwork in action. For some, like Carole Crane, it really hit close to home.
“We loved it – we had something in mind as to what would work, like bright fabrics and beads to feel and make rustling noises. My mother had dementia, and I guess I liked the creative process – and knowing where the aprons were going to be used.”
The women dug into their household items to bring life to the aprons – and to those who wear them. WI President Dawn Cheeseman says it was a really enjoyable project.
“It gave us all a good feeling to know that we’re doing something to help; we do a lot of things for others – and we really enjoyed this,” she added. “We spent a full Saturday going into our various ‘stashes’ and using our imaginations to figure out what would be good.”
Wayne Osmond, the coordinator of Therapeutic Recreation & Outreach Services was also on hand to size up an apron, first-hand – and to thank the women for their generosity. “I’d like to express our sincere thanks and appreciation for the great effort and work put into these activity aprons,” he said. “These aprons will certainly be put to good use and will provide many hours of stimulation and enjoyment for the residents here at Pleasant View Towers.
Staff at Pleasant View Towers were delighted with the creativity of the aprons, and before the ladies of the Women’s Institute left, they presented them with more ‘raw materials.’ Buttons and ribbons, laces and zippers – the makings of more aprons in the months ahead – which they happily accepted!
“It gave us a great sense of satisfaction when we saw Elsie enjoying her apron – it certainly wasn’t labour in vain,” says Phoebe Parrell. “We enjoyed doing this – and when we see the results, it means so much more to us now.” ■
This story was written by Deborah Collins, a communications manager with Eastern Health, based in St. John’s.