Why Stuffed Animals work in Dementia Care

RACHAEL PODCAST COVER – Season 4

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Video Transcript

So here is what I hear from people who talk about using a stuffed animal with someone living with dementia – these are all the things that I hear from caregivers or from care communities – as to why they are afraid to try a stuffed animal with someone and they don’t want to do it. Creative Engagement, all about programming activities for people living with dementia is the book that I wish I had when I was a program director, and I literally have a list of them. So I’m going to tell you them right now.

One, it isn’t dignified. Yes, it is. And the reason it’s dignified is that for a lot of people living with dementia, this looks and feels real and therefore is real to them. So when they think it’s real, of course, it’s dignified.

We’re not trying to treat people living with dementia like they’re children. We’re giving them something to love and care for. And that’s what is so important. We’ve already tried it. Let me tell you a story about this. I was consulting with a company a couple of years ago, and they said, “Rachael, we’ve already tried stuffed animals and they don’t work.” I was like, Okay( not really believing them) let me see what you have. I went to their station where they’re keeping the baby dolls and stuffed animals. And they had a bear, a stuffed animal bear with a bow tie on it. And they were like, see, the residents don’t like it. And I said, who do you know, who has a bear in their house? A live bear in their house with a bow on it?

And they were like, well, nobody. And I said, yeah, exactly. So a stuffed animal, that’s a bear like that – no one is going to think that’s real. The point of this is that they think it’s real. Or even if they don’t, it provides a level of comfort. And a lot of times people will vacillate between thinking it’s real one day and maybe the next day they don’t. But the point is that to a lot of people, this is very real to them. Okay. We can’t keep the dolls or pets clean enough. This is a huge problem, especially during COVID.

The great thing about some of the memorable pets in particular is that they can be washed. You do have to look and make sure. But I have, in some cases, put them in a garment bag and put them actually in the washing machine. Again, you have to check. But even for the robotic ones, there’s no reason that you can’t, you know, take a washcloth and like wipe it down. This is also why I recommend having multiple pets because some residents or some clients will kind of hoard the animals. And so if that’s what’s happening, okay then maybe everybody has their own. And they’re not at a high price point, either. So it’s not a huge deal to have a number of them. The mechanical ones are about a hundred bucks, $120, though so that’s a little bit higher of a price point. But for the joy that people get, I don’t think it’s that expensive. And with these guys, I think this is about $40.

This is why we’re going to have multiple pets. And of course, what if they don’t like it? Well, this brings me to my most important point, which is, that if you don’t try, you’re not going to know.

And whatever they say is the right answer. Right? So we’re not going to force our reality on the person. We’re gonna let them tell us what their reality is, which is, of course embracing their reality. We’re goign to say, what do you think about this? If they say, oh, it’s a puppy. Yes. It’s a puppy. Oh, it’s the stuffed animal. Yes. And then that way you’re not pushing your reality on them. They’re telling you their reality. You can’t go wrong and guess what? If they don’t like it at all, fine. Try it again in a couple of months or don’t, but you’re never going to know unless you try. So those are the things that I hear most often!

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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 two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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