Q&A: When a fake pet is real

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I got a great question from Alana, a volunteer coordinator at a hospice. She and her team got a Memorable Pet after seeing them on my blog! She wants to know how best to put their Pet to use, and also wants to know who the Pets would be most appropriate for.

My residents love our Memorable Pets! At my community we had an open room that hadn’t been used for anything in particular. I had a vision and convinced my team that it would work. I set up a “Pet Shop” by purchasing wall decor, pet food bowls, leashes, and a cat scratching post. I also bought 2 dogs and 1 cat. It gave the room a real identity, which is what I enjoy doing for my residents.  

In terms of who the Pets would be best appropriate for, it really depends on the stage that a person with dementia is in. You can assume with a good deal of certainty that anyone in an advanced stage of dementia will believe that the Pet is real. Typically, people who believe that baby dolls are real will think that the Pets are, too.

People in moderate stages of dementia may or may not think that the Pet is real. I always approach with caution when I am not sure if a resident will believe that the Pet is real. “Look at this,” I suggest, pointing to a Pet or handing it to a resident. Based on the reaction, it is easy to tell if a person believes that it is real or not. I also always make sure that I know if a person likes animals before handing them a Pet. 

And, always, I treat the baby dolls and the Memorable Pets as real until I know that a resident doesn’t think that they are. 

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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