Volunteers make ‘busy boards’ to help Allina Health’s Owatonna Hospital dementia patients

OWATONNA, Minn. (November 11, 2022) — Melanie Knutson is a regular volunteer at Allina Health’s Owatonna Hospital. When she saw a request in the hospital's Volunteer Voice Newsletter for people to make and donate ‘busy boards’ for the hospital’s dementia patients, she enlisted her husband, Kirby, and family friend, Pat Johnson to build a couple. A week later they donated them to the hospital.

Busy boards have locks and latches and other familiar hardware mounted on a wood board that helps patients with their memory and fine motor skills. The board gadgets enhance hand-eye coordination, finger dexterity and increased muscle strength. People with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can often exhibit symptoms that include restlessness or fidgeting hands and fingers. Many occupational therapy programs and caregiver support groups suggest using busy boards to help reduce agitation and help engage a person with Alzheimer’s disease.

Knutson, who has been volunteering since 2012, and her husband, Kirby, got to work on the boards using some items they had in the garage and purchasing a few new items as well.  They made the boards so that they can be wiped down and sanitized after each use and made them a bit smaller so that older patients can hold onto them easier.

“Being in the hospital can be very stressful for someone with dementia as routines are very important to relieve stress and anxiety. Activities that involve interaction with familiar objects like door latches and turning keys in a lock allows them to have some control over their environment and can lessen their anxiety,” said Nancy Martin, Medical Surgical and Special Care Unit Manager.

About Allina Health

Allina Health is dedicated to the prevention and treatment of illness and enhancing the greater health of individuals, families and communities throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin. A not-for-profit health care system, Allina Health cares for patients from beginning to end-of-life through its 90+ clinics, 10 hospitals / 13 campuses, 15 retail pharmacies, and many specialty care centers and specialty medical services, home care, and emergency medical transportation services.

Melanie and Kirby Knutsen, center and right, present a pair of busy boards.
Melanie and Kirby Knutsen, center and right, present a pair of busy boards to nurse Danielle Guentzel, Owatonna Hospital Emergency Department, where they will be used with dementia patients.