When the COVID-19 pandemic impacted health care providers last year, Gold Coast sewing enthusiast Eileen Chapman started a Facebook group to supply protective headwear for doctors, nurses and staff at local hospitals and nursing homes.

Key points:

  • Gold Coast Busy Blankets has produced more than 800 blankets in the past 12 months
  • Dementia affects around 1 in 15 Australians aged 65 and over
  • Volunteers are now also creating toys for the Royal Flying Doctor Service 

“At the beginning of the pandemic we found out there was a need for scrub caps for aged care workers,” she said.

But once that need subsidised, the group spun off into Gold Coast Busy Blankets, making blankets that help people with dementia. 

Ms Chapman said the community group now had more than 230 members.

“We’ll do anything sensory, lots of different textures and fabrics, buttons and zippers.

Woman with light blonde and grey hair sitting in chair wearing a pink top and holding a hand sewn purple blanket

Audrey Morcus receiving her Busy Blanket.(

Supplied: Kelly Casey

)

“We are very mindful of things that can come off … we’re very careful that things can’t be swallowed or eaten — it’s amazing how strong some of our aged care patients can be.”

Purple woollen scarf laying beside a purple 'busy blanket' containing ribbons and flowers.

Gold Coast Busy Blankets volunteers are now sending blankets to nursing homes in Victoria.(

Supplied: Gold Coast Busy Blankets.

)

Personalised blankets

Ms Chapman said personalised blankets elicited a deeper response from recipients.

“We try to, when possible, get a little bit of information if it’s going to a specific person in a home,” she said.

“Whether it’s their favourite colour, do they like cats or dogs?

Since the community group began a year ago, Gold Coast Busy Blankets has produced between 800 and 1,000 blankets.

Most of the blankets go to Gold Coast residents, but the group also sends their creations interstate.

“We’ve got 20-plus facilities that we’ve helped out in Victoria, Sunshine Coast and even Cairns,” Ms Chapman said. 

Man standing in front of a Royal Flying Doctor Service plane with trolley containing blankets and toys.

Volunteers now supply ‘busy blankets’ and soft toys to patients using the Royal Flying Doctor Service.(

Supplied: Royal Flying Doctor Service

)

“They go wherever anyone asks us to send them.” 

The sewing group is also assisting the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) by supplying baby blankets and ‘taggies’ — squares of material containing tags and ribbons that stimulate babies.

Dr Lorraine Marshall is a former Emergency Department doctor on the Gold Coast who has now joined the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Cairns.

She said the blankets “do something in medicine that we can’t give”.

“It’s those little things that make the biggest difference.” 

The volunteer group also makes trolley bags for the elderly, crocheted toy aeroplanes for children who use the flying doctor service and dignity scarves which protect an adult’s clothes while they’re eating.  

Brightly coloured crochet toy planes.

Crocheted toy planes donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Far North Queensland.(

Supplied: Royal Flying Doctor Service

)

Gold Coast Busy Blankets supply their own materials, which are often sourced from opportunity shops.

“This is the most amazing group of generous and kind-hearted women that I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” Ms Chapman said.

Dementia statistics

Dementia affects a person’s thinking, behaviour and ability to perform everyday tasks. 

Dementia is more common in older Australians and affects around 1 in 15 Australians aged 65 and over.

Gold Coast Busy Blankets community coordinator Kelly Casey liaises between the aged care facilities and the volunteers, and said personalised blankets resonated with elderly residents.

“It’s just so overwhelming for them,” she said.

“For a start there is some recognition straight away by them for some item on that blanket, whether it be a memory that they’ve had, a family member.

“The colour is such an impact and animals have such an impact on them … so they’ll stroke the picture of the cat or the furry dog.” 

Loneliness epidemic 

Ms Casey said loneliness was a widespread issue within aged care facilities across Australia.

“The amount of people that are either lonely or don’t have conversation or don’t have someone from the outside is a lot bigger than most people think.”

Ms Casey said many residents craved attention and deserved more involvement from members of the wider community. 

‘Busy blanket’ volunteers bring comfort to people with dementia
Source:
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