When a patient with dementia enters the emergency department (ED), they may feel especially unsettled. They often don’t know where they are or what’s going on around them. The noises, bright lights and unknown people can cause confusion and fear. Sarah Shepherd, DO, an emergency medicine physician at Southern Maine Health Care (SMHC), had an innovative idea to help ease the anxiety with “dementia blankets.” Two years later, her idea has become a reality.

The thought first came to Dr. Shepherd while she was working in the ED during a time when patients were not allowed to have visitors. As she passed through the halls, she became keenly aware that patients with dementia, who were all alone, looked especially afraid, sad and anxious. She wanted to do something that would provide comfort and keep their minds and hands engaged, so she began researching dementia blankets. Dementia blankets are soft and comfortable, with different textures, buttons and lace to keep patients’ hands busy. The materials are safe, and the blankets are clinically proven to provide comfort and ease the anxiety of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. The smooth textures lull the patients’ brain into a state of calm and security.

Dr. Shepherd didn’t know anything about sewing, so she teamed up with retired social worker and quilter Kathy Grosvenor to create a prototype. Dr. Shepherd shared the prototype with nursing leadership and asked for their feedback to ensure the blanket would be safe for hospital patients. Her friend Jen Langevin and Jen’s 10-year-old daughter Paisley used the feedback to create the next version of the blanket. When it was finished, Dr. Shepherd gave the blanket and leftover supplies to Shelly Snow, Director of Spiritual and Pastoral Services at SMHC. Shelly began working with quilters at North Berwick Congregational Church (NBCC) to produce more blankets. The group has finished 25 blankets for the hospital. Each blanket is unique and SMHC has so far given out seven blankets, which patients can keep and take home with them.

“While responding to a code in the ED, I noticed that a gentleman on a stretcher near the room of the code appeared scared. This was not unusual, as it is normal for the ED to be chaotic, and patients deal with a lot of unknowns. After the code was over, I stopped by to check in on the gentleman. He was visibly shaking and rocking on the stretcher. His eyes were wide and tearful. I went to my office and returned with a dementia blanket. I placed it on his lap and his demeanor changed. He settled back into the stretcher. His shoulders lowered. His face relaxed into a smile – he held my hand with one of his while he brushed the velour part of the blanket and told me about the house he grew up in.”

– Chaplain Shelly Snow

Close-up of an dementia blanket on a person's lap.

Dementia blankets are soft and comfortable, with different textures, buttons and lace to keep patients’ hands busy.

Several dementia blankets displayed across a long table.

Blankets completed by the North Berwick Congregational Church (NBCC).

Next Steps

The SMHC team continues to collaborate with the NBCC quilters to bring new blankets to patients in need of comfort.


  • Sarah Shepherd, DO, Southern Maine Health Care
  • Shelly Snow, Director of Spiritual and Pastoral Services, Southern Maine Health Care
  • Kathy Grosvenor, LCSW, Retired
  • Jen Langevin and her daughter Paisley
  • North Berwick Congregational Church

Our Purpose

MaineHealth Innovation builds connections to drive diversity of thought, educates to produce creative problem-solvers and funds to accelerate ideas. By leveraging the ideas, insights and expertise of all care team members to develop novel solutions to our unmet care needs, we are working together so our communities are the healthiest in America.

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