Caring for a memory care resident starts with compassion and empathy. Individuals with memory care issues will go through different stages and change and behave in different ways as their memory starts to disappear and they begin to forget how to take part in normal activities. The journey for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia can be long and stressful, so it’s important to explore different avenues of treatment to see which one works the best. At Autumn View in Ellisville, we make it a priority to give our residents a comfortable place to call home, in a safe and secure environment. We also offer specialized cognitive care and programs, including the option of doll or stuffed animal therapy.
Doll therapy is used as a non-medicinal treatment method in individuals with middle- to late-stage dementia. Loved ones or caregivers offer a doll or stuffed animal in the hopes of providing comfort and improving a person’s overall quality of life. Unlike medications that can cause side effects and often alter personality completely and cause a variety of other issues, doll therapy often provides a wealth of benefits.
Memory care patients often feel agitated and aggressive. While the cause is unknown, some specialists believe it’s due to the inability to recognize what something is. Others think the anger and aggression comes from the side effects of dementia and anti-anxiety medications, which can include headaches, constipation and nausea.
Dolls and stuffed animals can provide a grounding effect. An example of a grounding effect is when a pet comes running to the door to greet you after a long hard day or the feel you get when you pet a cat and it starts purring. Grounding effects can melt away stress and soothe the resident just like real babies can calm the nerves and lift spirits.
Dolls and stuffed animals can also remind an individual of a time they cared for their own children. Once the doll has been introduced, it can be added to a daily routine. Caring for a stuffed animal, including bathing it, feeding it, reading stories and even holding and comforting it can give a memory care resident a sense of purpose. This alleviates feelings of isolation and sadness and can leave the person feeling much happier throughout the day.
Holding a stuffed animal or doll may also remind the person of days when they were a child. This can bring back memories of feeling loved and cared for by a parent or other caregiver.
Those with memory care issues may wander because they forget where they are or they can’t remember where they need to be. When given the responsibility of a stuffed animal or doll, they may feel the need to stay close to provide constant care.
It’s not uncommon for those with dementia and other memory care issues to have trouble communicating and participating in normal activities. When looking for ways to communicate with someone with dementia or memory care issues, it's important to know how to proceed. Caring for a stuffed animal provides an activity that most can participate in, including holding and providing comfort to the doll.
Dolls can be used to spark communication in those with memory care issues. You can ask questions like “How many children do you have?” ”Do you have boys or girls?” and “What’s the best thing you remember about being a mom or a dad?” This provides the opportunity for patients to think about their past and share stories that they do remember.
Introducing a stuffed animal or a doll as part of a treatment regimen can be tricky because you never know how it will be received. Some residents take up caring for the stuffed animal almost instantly while others may take weeks or months to become interested. Others may never form a bond.
The best way to introduce the treatment is by picking out a lifelike doll or a stuffed animal that will remind the individual of a past pet or their own children. A doll that moves and interacts is a good choice, but make sure it doesn’t cry or make loud noises, which can be upsetting for some. Give the doll to your loved one and refer to it as a baby, child or pet. The important thing is to not force it. If the person doesn’t seem interested, you can leave it in their room or place it close by.
Set up a nursery in a nearby room and make it similar to a real child’s room. Add pictures, books, a rocking chair, a crib, bottles and a changing table. Make sure the resident has easy and constant access to this room.