Real Animals, Stuffed Animals


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We took a fun trip to the National Aviary yesterday with some of our residents from Memory Care. They had a great time seeing the birds, especially the ones that came right up to our group.


I, at the age of 27, got in trouble with an Aviary staff member for petting the bird pictured in this photo. The staff member disagreed, but I am pretty sure the bird wanted to be petted.

As you can also see from the photo, my resident in front, Sandra, had her stuffed dog with her. Many of my residents carry stuffed animals with them everywhere. These stuffed animals give my residents a sense of comfort and purpose. Our Memorable Pets have been a particularly huge hit.

We also have a Memory Care cat, which I wrote about last week. Our live cat, Fred Astaire, loves the residents and the residents love him. I have found, though, that when he is napping, my residents’ stuffed animals have the same, happy effect as he would have had.

Don’t get me wrong: this is really only true for people in moderate to advanced stages of dementia. For people in earlier stages of dementia, a live animal usually has a much greater, more positive effect than a stuffed animal ever could.

But, when someone is in a moderate stage of dementia, holding a stuffed animal close, particularly one with a good backstory (”My family brought this for me!”) usually brings with great comfort.

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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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