#10: Dementia Patient Sews for First Time in Two Years

Story originally published in The Journal Times.

Ruth Barrer grew up sewing. With her childhood spent working on her family's Mississippi cotton farm, Ruth was no amateur to hard work and commitment. Much of her time was spent at the sewing machine, a place where she perfected her skill creating items like dresses, skirts, and quilts for chilly days. After decades of constructing elaborate projects, Ruth's health took a turn for the worst when she was diagnosed with dementia, causing her to slowly forget what she'd spent years practicing-how to sew.

Ruth spent two years away from the machine that had once brought her so much satisfaction, but that all changed when she was given an opportunity to attend a one-on-one session to relearn her forgotten skill. Diane Rusch, a teacher at the Sew 'N Save in Racine, Wisconsin, spent hours working with the 86-year-old to make a pillowcase. Though the process was slow, Ruth began to work more and more independently, eventually maneuvering the fabric through the sewing machine like nothing had ever changed. "I believe we have paths in our memory that are formulated, and her cells are certainly active because she knew just what she was doing," Diane said. Once the pillowcase was finished, Ruth jumped up from her seat to hug Diane and thank her immensely.

Ruth claims her class-taking days are over, but says she hopes to continue sewing for as long as she can. "Now I'll make me a dress," said Ruth to The Journal Times. "I'll get me a pattern and I'll make me a dress, and if I don't have enough material I'll make me a skirt."

Photo credit: Jake Green, The Journal Times