In her third blog instalment, Heather O’Neil reveals how her mum Margaret is still putting her creative skills to great use
Mum has always enjoyed making paper flowers. I remember beautiful displays in our home when I was growing up; large, brightly coloured crepe paper flowers filled our hallway. Luckily, Mum passed on her love of arts and crafts to me and I graduated with a degree in Art & Textile design in 1984.
After Mum was diagnosed with mixed dementia in 2012, I have constantly researched how best to cope with the disease and stimulate her memory, whilst keeping her active, happy and engaged. Since she has always been such a creative person, a wonderful artist, seamstress, cake decorator and crafter … I knew that Art Therapy was the answer!
Creative activities definitely seem to reduce her agitation and give her a sense of purpose and accomplishment. A couple of years ago I created a Facebook page so that I could share our activities and ideas with others in our situation. We now have over 1500 followers from all over the world and I believe my mum has inspired many.
Last year, I reduced my hours at work so that I could spend more time with my mum (and stepdad who I also care for). Mum’s memory was worsening and she was becoming more and more confused so I introduced my inherited creativity into our daily routine. I was even nick-named the ‘Creative Carer’ by mum’s memory clinic!
I’ve now implemented a creative session every morning and this routine has worked incredibly well. Mum is always excited to see me when I arrive and keen to find out what we will be doing. This craft time has become an important part of her day. Our projects range from card making and colouring to painting shells and stones! The creative time we spend together is very special … we have Mum’s favourite music on in the background and usually her beloved cat in between us!
But the craft she has become famous for is her Paper Flower Making. It has been lovely to be able to reintroduce this craft into my mum’s Art Therapy. Due to the Alzheimer’s she has unfortunately lost confidence in designing and cutting out shapes freehand. However, if I supply a cardboard template she is able to follow the pattern and will sit for hours cutting out pretty petals and leaves.
Making these flowers brings Mum great joy, and she also loves having something at the ready to give to nurses and doctors who visit … as well as her dentist, optician and hairdresser!!
Her flowers have also been greatly admired on our Facebook page and we have been asked so many times if she sells them that I decided to fulfil her ambition of having her own little business! In August this year I opened an Etsy shop for her, aptly called Made by Mum.
Mum has now had more than 30 orders and her flowers have been shipped all round the world … from the UK to America, Canada and Australia! She has made Thanks Giving wreaths for people in America and is now working on some Christmas ideas which can be seen in her shop. She carefully scents her flowers with essential oils and wraps them in tissue paper. Each box is personally decorated.
When we started the shop, we pledged to give 25 per cent of our earnings to the Alzheimer’s Society and I’m pleased to say we have already given them more than £150! Best of all, Mum feels useful and the excitement on her face when I show her where her flowers are going is just incredible.
With a little support and creative encouragement, I hope Mum has shown that there really can be a future after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. As for me, I’ve learnt how important it is to focus on what she can achieve, and to make the most of every single day.