Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CHALLENGE Response: Designing Jewelry for Seniors with Special Needs

My mother was very sweet.  That's what everyone said about her... while she was living, and afterward too.  "Sweet" was the word most commonly used to describe her.  And it was true.

My mother also had many physical problems. She fell a lot and in doing so, managed to tear both rotator cuffs.   She couldn't lift her arms over her head the last couple years of her life.

My mother had Alzheimer's.

My mother liked dressing up, and liked to wear jewelry. Every day.

She had a lot of jewelry.  Some of it I made.
My mother couldn't  well, so we tried to help her.  She couldn't reach or lift, so we tried to help with that too. 
Gradually, I learned to  life  more as she did.
Step #1
I thought about how I would put on and take off jewelry if I couldn't lift my arms.  I wouldn't be able to hold my arms in the air and open a clasp.  I would keep my arms close to my body, elbows to my side, bend my stiff neck down, and slip the necklace over my head.  So I began to  
pendants for her.  I put them on long chains that would not need to be unfastened.
Step #2
When she went to the nursing facility to live,  of course she wanted to take jewelry.  She couldn't take any expensive jewelry, but she could take mine.  That suited her fine.  She had other long chain necklaces too, and chain extenders for shorter ones. We got a plastic container with dividers and filled it up so she would have lots of jewelry to wear.

This is not a necklace that belonged to my mother;  
it's one I made for myself, 
but it's similar in design to some I made for her.  
While I put her pendants on long chains, 
I've since started putting every pendant I sell 
on long ribbons so they may be worn as they are 
or the buyer can switch to a chain.   
I make sure they are long enough to fit 
over most head sizes with ease.
There is no clasp involved.  
I find this quick & handy for myself too, 
& hope others like it as well.

When I took her clothing home to clean each week, I would attach her pins to her jackets in advance. (She wore jackets summer and winter because she always felt cold--"like Mother, like daughter!")  The jackets and jewelry were ready to go when she was.  Forget the old rule that you don't wear a pin and a necklace together.  I don't know if any of you still abide by that one, but my mom did not!  Jewelry helped her feel good about herself and was one thing that was "the same" as before.  The monetary value was not important.  It was whether she liked the thing or not that made  it a 
.  (We think alike here too.)

My mother taught me to think creatively to achieve what we both desired--in this case jewelry that she could easily wear--jewelry that she could manage on her own.

My mother's Alzheimer's taught me to live in the , to  , because there is not much of an awareness of yesterday or tomorrow.   It's only today that exists.  The "here and now."  After being around people with Alzheimer's daily for over a year, that thinking pattern became "normal" to me, and it remained with me for a very long while afterward.   

The lessons I learned about jewelry-making, and the lessons I learned about life, and the time I spent with my mother, I will .

© 2011 Sharyl McMillian-Nelson

  • Graphics made from Colorbok punch-out kit then scanned. Visit for more information.
  • Necklace by Sharyl.
  • Pin, a gift we brought my mother from Hawaii.
  • Photos by Sharyl.

    Please post your ideas and questions for the "CHALLENGE" soon!  A link is attached to the original post in case you've forgotten or missed what it was all about.   This discussion thread ends next week (Wed., Sept. 28th) and we'll summarize then.  I would love to hear from you!   

    Many thanks!  --Sharyl


    Krista said...

    We recently celebrated the 80th birthday of a family friend. When my Mom and I went out shopping for her, we knew we wanted to buy her jewelry. She always has on a long string of colorful beads. This was before I started making my own jewelry. The first thing we said about the necklace was that it had to be long enough to fit over her head. She wouldn't want to worry about a clasp. And, it needed to be colorful! We found something for her and she opened it up at her party on Sunday. She loved it! For Christmas this year, it will be so great to make her something of my own. Something long with big, bright beads!

    Krista said...

    I also wanted to say how touching your post is about your mother. My Mom and I have spent so much time together since I moved to Texas, that it will be hard to leave her again.

    Sharyl said...

    Thank you for both your comments, Krista. I hope you will share a photo of the necklace you make for your family friend when you complete it!

    I do miss my Mom, but I'm always happy to hear when people enjoy time with their Mom (or Dad)! It was delightful to see that your Mom--as well as your son-- participated in your Family Jewelry Day!

    G.Dowell said...

    What a wonderful post! And such a tribute to your mother. You've made some great observations in designing jewelry for the elderly and keeping a piece simple to put on and wear. I guess you never outgrow that need as a woman to wear something beautiful.

    Sharyl said...

    I truly appreciate your comments, Gayle. Thank you so much.

    My mother passed away before she made it to the final stages of Alzheimer's. She was 85. She became very ill in the last weeks of her life. But until then, she certainly did enjoy her jewelry daily!

    aneri_masi said...

    Now I know how you are so sweet, Sharyl! This is such a lovely tribute, and am really glad I got to read it. The lesson about living in the here and now is a difficult one to learn!