WE’RE ALL AWARE how family photos can help trigger memories from years ago; during stressful periods in our life, they can be of tremendous comfort.
For people living with dementia, it can help enormously to have reminders of treasured family memories within constant reach.
Often, framed photos and scrapbooks are placed around a person’s room by loved ones. Personalised memory blankets are sometimes used for this purpose too: photos are printed out on a duvet, rug or quilt – so a person can derive some comfort from the images of family and friends.
Dublin woman Catherine Daly is taking this product idea one stage further – combining sensory elements with family photos, and offering a new range of blankets to family members of Alzheimer’s sufferers.
“Our first two products are in prototype stage and about to be researched in a nursing home,” she explains.
What might look to some like a very ordinary blanket, is actually carefully crafted to support a person’s emotional memories – links to their family, their favourite song, smell, poem or place when they were younger and provide sensory stimulus – through a range of different fabrics, some of which might include their own favourite shirt, apron or hat.
So-called ‘fidget quilts’ for people with Alzheimer’s are already popular for patients – and existing ranges of ‘memory blankets’ have been endorsed by Alzheimer’s support groups and charities.
Daly’s hoping to improve on products that may already be available by combining family images with materials the patient will have built a familiarity with over the preceding decades.
The ‘Anchorlily’ range of products, she says, will be an “entirely new departure”.
There are smaller pieces available out there, but none of them allow the life story to be told fully.
An occupational therapist since the late 90s, Daly says there’s been a fundamental change in how people living with dementia are treated, and that there’s been massive progress in the last two decades.
Now graduating from an Enterprise Ireland entrepreneur development programme, she says her own journey towards setting up a business “was a surprise – mostly to me”.
“We had our own difficult journey through IVF to have our daughter – and in 2015, after more failed rounds, made the tough decision to finish the process.
“I have always been creative so to help me come to terms with it, I took down all of the baby clothes that we had put in the attic in hope of another child and began to patchwork them into a quilt to put on my daughter’s bed.
I spent days feeling grateful for how lucky we are, and crying for the loss of what could have been.
Somewhere in that pain, she adds, “was the beginning of an idea that took me from my sewing room to pitching to Enterprise Ireland”.
“I have always been driven by how we can support people with dementia.
“In those moments, I recognised that hidden grief is what family caregivers must go through every day when a loved one has dementia – they witness losses all the time – their family member not recognising them, or not being able to find their words, or the right way to put on their clothes.
They carry that grief with them. I thought in some way, there was a process and journey for them in finding the pictures for the blanket, in thinking about their loved one and creating them something which lets them know they’re loved.
The customised blankets and bed bumpers can be ordered via the Anchorlily website: customers can upload photos and other images, and items can be sent to the company via post.
The finishing touches to the website are being made at the moment, and further services will be added in the coming months, it’s planned.
The Alzheimer Society of Ireland, meanwhile, has given its backing to products like the ones being created by Daly.
“Activities that stimulate and support a person to engage throughout their journey with dementia are vital,” the Society’s Samantha Taylor said.
Life Story work can be tremendously enjoyable for the person with dementia and their families; it can bring generations together and really support communication.
The Alzheimer Society of Ireland helpline number is 1800 341 341. It operates 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and 10am to 4pm on Saturday.