Fidget spinners and dementia: How to turn a toy into a tool

You’ve probably heard about fidget spinners if you’ve been around kids or watched primetime commercials in the last several years. Parents and teachers touted their ability to help kids focus, while the children themselves loved to collect various colors and designs.

Even if you don’t usually keep up with the younger generation’s trends, fidget spinners might be worth a test run if you have dementia symptoms or other anxiety conditions. Their ease of use, small size, and bright colors make them excellent for calming your mind and occupying your hands. Here’s everything you need to know about these toys and how to use them as tools while you age.

What Are Fidget Spinners?

Fidget spinners burst onto the scene in middle schools across the nation in 2017 and have been popular ever since. They’re small metal or plastic objects that fit easily into the palm of your hand. Fidget spinners are also simple in design and unobtrusive. They are mostly flat and have a small indentation in the middle where you hold the spinner with a pinch grip. Three nubs around the outside spin around the middle spot. The spinning mechanism is loose enough that you can get everything moving very quickly! You can find fidget spinners in every color and pattern imaginable, including ones that light up and glow in the dark!

Who Should Use Them?

The purpose of fidget spinners is simple: to offer an opportunity for fidgeting! Many people with anxiety, sensory differences, or attention difficulties find that fidgeting provides sensory-motor input that can help calm and focus their minds. The allure of fidget spinners (instead of biting fingernails or tapping a pen, for example) is that they are relatively quiet and can be used indefinitely—and they’re fun! Because they’re small and lightweight, children and adults alike can carry them easily and use them when necessary. There isn’t any learning curve, so even those with reduced cognitive functioning can pick one up and start spinning, making them a perfect tool for seniors with dementia.

Photo: Getty Images

Seniors and Dementia

Dementia is defined as the loss of cognitive functioning. It is a condition that’s more likely the older you are. The National Institute on Aging notes that about a third of adults over 80 have some form of dementia. While not a normal part of aging, its prevalence means that continuously finding ways to treat the symptoms is critical. Although there are different underlying causes of dementia, many seniors experience similar symptoms, including some memory loss, difficulty with daily tasks, changes in mood, and difficulty speaking and writing. Developing anxiety along with dementia is common, so addressing the nervous habits is an excellent way to improve daily life for those with the disease.

Dementia, Anxiety, and Fidget Spinners!

Many studies estimate that up to 71% of people with dementia experience anxiety symptoms, while up to 21% can develop more extensive anxiety disorders. Dementia and anxiety can cause agitation in seniors, prompting a need to move around, change environments, or seek comfort in familiar routines and places. Many daily routines can be scheduled and home environments structured to be as calming as possible. Still, it’s vital to have tools and techniques to reduce agitation when unpredictable places, people, or tasks pop up. A fidget spinner tucked away into pockets and purses can help. Senior care facilities have found that residents with dementia enjoy using fidget spinners to occupy their hands, calm their minds, and redirect attention. A bonus that many residents reported was increased hand strength and flexibility. The grip and movement required to use a fidget spinner aren’t overwhelming, but it does create opportunities for engaging those vital muscles.

Alternatives

While fidget spinners are an excellent option for most seniors with dementia or other anxiety concerns, there may be sensory issues for some. The metal or plastic material could feel too cold or hard, the slight sound could be distracting, or the particular movement required could be strenuous. In these cases, alternative fidget tools are a solid option. Look for squares of fabric with different textures for those who need something softer and silent. Or, opt for a larger fidget object like bubble boards for those who struggle with dexterity.

Have a fidget spinner on hand to try the next time you feel anxious or agitated—chances are you’ll be a fan!

The Active Aging Series is brought to you by our partner, Cambrian Homecare. Cambrian Homecare has been assisting individuals to stay independent in their homes for 25 years. Flexible experience you can trust, when the best place is still at home. Click here to see all of Cambrian’s informative articles.

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