The sense of disorientation a patient with dementia experiences can be frightening. A desire to reduce their stress is what motivated Lillian Hung, a VGH clinical nurse specialist (CNS), to choose a PhD dissertation on ways to support people with dementia in acute-care settings.
“We’ve had situations where patients pull out their IV lines and we end up having to tie their hands, which compounds their anxiety,” says Lillian. “I was looking online for alternatives and found a story from the UK where nurses used comfort mitts to distract patients. I thought if it works there, why not here?”
Before Lillian could test comfort mitts, she needed to find some. She put the challenge to colleague Alison Lee, patient care coordinator, clinical nurse educator — and knitter — to come up with a prototype for the knitted tube.
“From there we created a poster and used that and social media to ask others to help,” says Lillian. It worked.
Staff, past and present, Langara nursing students and members of the community picked up their knitting needles and volunteered. At 92 years young, Doreen, a retired nurse, is the oldest community volunteer with three comfort mitts to her credit so far.
Comfort mitts were introduced at VGH during the summer of 2016 and are now in use on hospitalist medicine units with promising results. Made of colourful, textured wool and embellished with accessories like beads and buttons, the mitts provide visual and tactile stimulation while hiding the IV line. Patient feedback has been positive and restraints are needed less often.
“They’re particularly useful for occupying patients who fiddle with and pull at intravenous lines, catheters and oxygen tubing,” explains Lillian. “They also work as wonderful conversation pieces to engage patients at a social level.”
Lillian is unsure how many mitts have been made (patients keep theirs when discharged), but she’s grateful to everyone for their assistance, notably Gail Peake, activity worker, who has made numerous versions.
“Everyone brings their own creative elements,” says Lillian, referring to a table of mitts in a rainbow of colours. “Thanks to our volunteers, comfort mitts have helped to improve the patient experience.”
Lillian, Alison and Jenifer Tabamo, VGH CNS, are scheduled to present their early findings and discuss the potential for using comfort mitts in other settings, including residential and community care, at Quality Forum 2017 on March 2.