Family CARE Grant Dementia Blankets Improve Patient Safety and Comfort

2A Manager Matt Shonosky shows the new blanket and pillow purchased with a Family CARE Grant. They allow dementia patients to safely fidget and feel comforted when admitted to our Hospital.

Being admitted to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre can be stressful and frightening for anybody. But it’s particularly difficult for patients with dementia including Alzheimer’s. New faces and a new environment can be confusing. Not only is this uncomfortable for the patient, it can trigger potentially harmful behaviours.

Thanks to a Volunteer Association and Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation CARE Grant, staff will be able to better care for patients with dementia, making them safer and more comfortable.

Patients with dementia are easily stressed in new situations. They get frustrated when they can’t communicate their feelings properly. As a result, they often “act out” in various ways. This can be anything from simple fidgeting to physical outbursts that can harm the patients, family members, and staff.

“If a patient can’t express themselves, they may lash out. It’s not their fault – it’s just how they react,” said 2A Manager Matthew Shonosky.

Shonosky said that fidgeting is common in dementia patients. Many will tie things into knots and bows. Although it sounds harmless, fidgeting can actually be quite dangerous in a hospital setting. Often what patients fidget with are IV tubes, cords, and wound dressings. Obviously, nursing staff want to avoid anything that could cause further harm to themselves.

When patients become too much of a danger to themselves or others, restraints and/or medications are sometimes the only answer.

“The more we can manage their symptoms without resorting to medications, the better,” Shonosky said. “I wanted to find something that patients could fidget with safely and keep their attention.”

Fortunately, he did. Dementia pillows and blankets are simple but effective ways of calming patients. It allows patients to focus their nervous energy on a soothing yet harmless activity. Shonosky heard about them being used at other hospitals in Ontario with great success.

“Having a stimulus such as a blanket will help them keep their hands busy so they’re not pulling at vital equipment or treatments,” he said. “I’m hoping this is another way we can help patients occupy themselves without injuring themselves.”

Shonosky learned firsthand how effective they can be. One patient in 2A suffered from temporary delirium during his stay. When the patient recovered, he told Shonosky in vivid detail how frightening it was being in a strange environment with new people around him. The unfamiliar surroundings triggered more stress which in turn caused more delusions. Past traumas welled up to the surface in terrifying ways. For the patient, it was almost like a waking nightmare that he couldn’t control.

“He said the only way he could calm himself was to try to get out of bed or do other things to get away from it,” Shonosky said. “We want to do anything we can do to alleviate the delusions our patients are having.”

Shonosky purchased a number of dementia pillows and blankets thanks to the Family CARE Grant program. CARE, which stands for Care Advancements Recommended by Employees, allows frontline staff to identify new patient care improvements, and then provides funding to put those ideas into action. Thanks to Shonosky’s dedication and the generosity of Family CARE Grant program donors, inpatients with dementia in 2A and 2B will have a safer, less stressful hospital stay.

You can help, too! Make your donation to the Family CARE Grant program online at or call our Donation Centre at (807) 345-4673.

** Applications for 2020 Family CARE Grants are now open. Forms can be found at