Three Ways that Knitting Helps Fight Dementia
Fashionably late to the party as ever! Last week was Dementia Awareness Week, a cause that's close to my heart, and with almost a million people in the UK suffering with dementia, there's a good chance it's close to yours too. As a believer in the 'hate something, change something' school of thought, I always try to look for ways to solve the problem, whilst there's no cure for dementia, there is a a strong link between knitting and the prevention and deceleration of this awful disease. So that's the focus of this week's blog!
What is Dementia?
Dementia is the blanket term for a number of symptoms that typically include: memory loss, difficulties with thinking, problem-solving and using language. In the early stages of the disease these changes will be almost too small to notice, but as the condition progresses they can severely affect daily life. Dementia is most commonly brought about by Alzheimer's disease, though this is not the only cause.
Knitting to Prevent Dementia
One of the best ways of lowering your chance of developing dementia is by learning a new skill. Although there is still a lot that is not known about the disease, there is mounting evidence to suggest that Alzheimer's is caused by plaques gathering around synapses. Synapses are the connections between nerves, the ones in our brains allow the transfer of information. When plaques form around the synapses they prevent them from working properly, leading to memory loss. The most simple solution to this problem is to create more synapses, but how?
Learning a new skill creates synapses in the brain, be it a language, a craft or even a new card game. There is no end to the number of synapses a brain can develop, so in theory, the more you have, the less it matters when plaques form around some. Knitting is a great skill to learn, as well as it being productive, it's also incredibly soothing, thanks to its tactile and repetitive nature.
Knitting to Slow Dementia
For those already suffering with dementia, prevention is obviously no longer an option. Thankfully many of today's older generation grew up knitting, so whilst it would be difficult for their short term memory to retain the necessary information to learn a new skill, it's very possible that a memory from their younger years will remain intact.
Knitting is a 'cognitive activity', along with sewing, painting and cooking, these activities require us to focus inward to complete a task. These cognitive activities have been shown numerous times to slow the progress of dementia. Knitting is particularly effective, because as well as giving the same surge of dopamine that all of these tasks provide, it also stimulates a number of different areas in the brain. The two main stimulated parts are memory and attention span, the two most affected abilities in dementia patients. Using these parts of the brain keeps them strong, in the same way that exercising a muscle helps it to grow. The Mayo clinic found that knitting regularly can slow down the loss of cognitive ability by as much as fifty percent!
Knitting as Dementia Therapy
If the act of knitting itself is either not appealing or no longer possible for a person with dementia, that doesn't mean knitting can't still provide therapy. Many people with Alzheimer's disease suffer from 'fidgety hands', the need to fiddle with things. This behaviour can't be helped and can cause them to pick at themselves or pull things apart. As a way of coping with this, many people swear by 'Twiddle Muffs'. These knitted tubes have beads, ribbons and tactile materials sewn into them, creating sensory stimulation and giving fidgety hands something to keep them occupied.
I've whipped up a quick pattern for these muffs, be as adventurous as you like! They are a really simple pattern to follow, so are perfect for beginners.