Soon after her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011, Nancy Rose moved with her husband from Washington State to Colorado to help care for her mom.
One day, Nancy, 51, marveled at how a handcrafted multicolored pastel quilt designed to provide tactile stimulation —called a sensory blanket — calmed her restless mother down.
Rose finally had an answer for all the unused fabric she had lying around the house: she would make one of the quilts. “It was a way to cope and release stress,” says Rose, “and to help someone else out.”
Rose didn’t stop at just one. In the two years since, she has created and given away over 150 of her unique quilts, to people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Most nights and weekends, Rose, a hospital respiratory therapist, cuts and sews swaths of colorful fabric and adorns the cloth with a variety of objects: buttons, snaps, zippers, doilies and even baby clothes that can occupy a recipient’s mind for hours. Each quilt has a theme, including golf, football and a bed & breakfast designed for a former B&B owner.
She’s been offered payment for the quilts but always refuses. “I just do it for mom,” Rose says, “to honor her.”
Mom is Betty Muir, 81, of Westminster, Colorado, who once loved to sit in her backyard and garden, and drive around town. For years, Muir was becoming increasingly forgetful and repeating phrases. When she got lost while driving six years ago “that really scared her,” says Rose. Testing soon after led to her diagnosis.
As Rose has watched her mother’s transformation from a social butterfly to someone struggling to verbally communicate, it’s left the devoted daughter “sad, angry, frustrated,” Rose says. “You have to laugh at some of the things or it’s sad, like she can’t form sentences.”
“There are good days and bad days watching it, it’s hard,” says Rose. “But it has brought us closer. I had a new kind of bonding with her.”
Muir lives in a community for people with dementia called Greenridge Place, where Rose has donated some 30 of her quilts.
“I can’t be more grateful and more blessed and thanking her is not enough,” says Greenridge Place activities director Michelle Meyer. “Something so little as these blankets make a world of difference to our residents.”
Rose crafted 70 quilts as centerpieces for the Alzheimer Association of Colorado’s annual fundraiser in March, with each given to someone with dementia.
“It was amazing to see what she did,” says Michelle Nelson, who helped organize the event. “It was her way of coping, and I don’t think she understands the magnitude of what she did.”
Attendee Dana Licht, 48, of Greenwood Village, Colorado, took a Bronco’s-themed quilt dotted with pouches and corks to her mother in Los Angeles.
“My mom loves the quilt, it’s calming and distracting in a good way,” she says. “I think Nancy is a blessing, and an amazing person to do that.”