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Crochet octopuses to the rescue! Preemies and dementia patients benefit from something to hold

A crochet octopus boom hit Finland last year, after neo-natal doctors observed that premature babies thrived if they were given the tentacled toys. Now caregivers of dementia patients in Finland say the same toy could help them overcome a recurring problem: preventing people with memory loss from pulling out their drips.

Image: Jari Pelkonen / Yle

Kokkola nurse Johanna Kuoppala spends all of her free time crocheting octopuses for her patients at Central Finland's central hospital. She says the hospital's need for the colourful companions is acute, because just as with premature babies, the patients with dementia are constantly playing with or inadvertently pulling out various tubes and instruments that are vital for their care.

Particularly after surgery, patients may have as many as ten different tubes crisscrossing their arms and body, and dementia sufferers who nervously tear them out create hazards not only for themselves, but also the hospital staff. Some of the unit's residents were known to pull out the tubes once every hour or so.

"The doctor even gave us permission to bind one patient's hands, so the tubes wouldn't be pulled out. Older patients have very thin veins, so inserting an IV line is very difficult. If connections to the few good veins we can find are severed, we are in trouble. Sometimes we have to install a central catheter instead," says Kuoppala.

Vuoteessa makaava potilas hypistelee turvalonkeroa.
Image: Kalle Niskala / Yle

In some cases, older patients with memory loss can even pull out their urinary catheters, and this can cause damage to the urinary tract.

Fidgety fingers

But the tubes and wires of the Kokkola surgical unit are now left alone, thanks to Kuoppala's crocheted octopuses. Most patients grab a hold of them tightly, handling them repeatedly through the day.

"One old fisherman imagined he was repairing nets. Another elderly woman was constantly braiding the coils, and we would open them up again whenever we would pass by so she could do it again," she says.

Kuoppala has submitted a request via Facebook for people who love to crochet to help provide the hospital with the cute many-armed creatures. She says the toys become the personal property of their patients, so they make the trip home with patients who are discharged. She says her goal is to provide each of the hospital units with enough octopuses to give to every patient.

"We've had a real drop in tearing out tubes. If I could hazard a guess, it has gone down by up to 80 percent, thanks to the octopuses." 

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