The Experiment: An Update


A few weeks ago, Mum and I started on an experiment. Mum desperately wants to feel better; to have some purpose in life. And after five years of rest home visits, I’m sometimes pretty short on inspiration. I was keen for some fresh ideas for how to help her.

Our strategy was based on the Five Ways to Wellbeing, a set of evidence-based actions developed in the U.K. by the New Economics Foundation and promoted here in New Zealand by the Mental Health Foundation. Mum christened it “The Experiment: In relation to ageing, dependent mothers.”

“Give” was the first wellbeing goal we chose. Here is our progress report:

Mum and I decided that I would advertise her needlework services among family and friends. So on Saturdays, with my help, Mum has been mending, darning and replacing buttons, giving new life to clothes that had languished for months, waiting to be fixed.

This was quite intense, but it worked well. With me sitting alongside, helping to choose the thread, find the right size needle and keep things on track, Mum did a sterling job. And the owners of the clothes were delighted with the results. Sorting through my large and random collection for buttons that matched was a strangely compelling activity.

Five stars!

Mum and I decided I would help her to knit for charity. After searching online for all of one minute, I found the perfect project. Knit-A-Square is a South African-based charity that takes donated peggy squares and joins them into blankets for orphaned children.

After a bumpy start, this strategy is beginning to work. I provided Mum with a printout of the project details, a peggy square template, needles and wool. She cast on expertly, as usual, and did the first few rows. With her agreement, I removed all of her other knitting projects (mostly scarves) so she could focus on this one. Then I left her to it.

When I returned a couple of days later, Mum was still knitting scarves.

At that point I was unsure whether to persist. If Mum wanted to keep knitting scarves, why get in the way? But once I reminded her about Knit-A Square, Mum was determined to continue. I took the last of the scarves away.

Mum has completed four perfect peggy squares and is now working on her fifth.

Three stars.

Wellbeing: It won’t happen overnight. We’re taking it slowly.

Sarah Jane is a freelance writer/researcher and part-time caregiver for her mother Eleanor* who has dementia and lives at a rest home nearby. Sarah and her mother spend Saturdays enjoying each other’s company, pottering about and having the occasional adventure. Sarah lives in New Zealand where she writes and speaks about dementia-related issues.

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This is great that she has talents that she can use and feel more productive. My mother never had any hobbies so she is left with not many things to do during the day.
That must make it hard. I've been thinking about activities that work for Mum. Not all of them are hobbies - some of them are chores she's familiar with e.g. folding the clean laundry, peeling apples for cooking etc. Its a win-win. I get a bit of help and Mum feels useful.