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Stuffed Animal Pet / Toy Therapy
The late Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame, wrote that, “Happiness is a warm puppy.”
Maybe he knew that happiness is just the start when it comes to enhancing the lives of older loved ones in nursing homes or assisted living, terminal patients and even caregivers looking to improve their own health. Known as Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT), there is a growing movement to increase animal/patient interactions for health and wellness benefits. Pet therapy for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia has also proven to be a powerful tool for what is known as “sundowners,” the evening periods where patients become agitated or confused.
Research shows that people with mid to late stages of Alzheimer’s disease continue to feel deep emotion even though memory, language and cognitive function steadily decline. They have a strong need to nurture and care which stimulates positive emotional feelings such as deep comfort and security. While a stuffed animal pet or doll is a small gift, it can have a huge impact on your loved one’s quality of life by providing a constant source of comfort.
Research suggests that creating positive emotional experiences for Alzheimer’s patients diminishes distress and behavior problems. In fact, science is weighing in on many aspects of taking care of dementia patients, applying evidence-based research to what used to be considered subjective and ad hoc. According to Sidney M. Stahl, chief of the Individual Behavioral Processes branch of the Institute on Aging, The National Institute on Aging and the Administration on Aging are now financing caregiving studies on “things that just kind of make the life of an Alzheimer’s patient and his or her caregiver less burdensome." Other research suggested In fact, reducing caregiver stress is considered significant enough in dementia care that federal and state health agencies are adopting programs giving caregivers education and emotional support.
With virtually no effective medical treatment for Alzheimer’s yet, apart from various medications which effectively prolong a quality of life, most dementia therapy is the caregiving performed by families and nursing homes. Some 11 million people care for Alzheimer’s-afflicted relatives at home. In nursing homes, two-thirds of residents have some dementia. According to Lisa P. Gwyther, education director for the Bryan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Duke University. “There’s actually better evidence and more significant results in caregiver interventions than there is in anything to treat Dementia related diseases so far,”
At this point we could go into a detailed look at the research and the conclusions on the benefits of live pet therapy, stuffed animal pet therapy and doll therapy. Suffice to say, live pet therapy with real dogs has been used to help dementia patients. Dogs used as pet therapy are one of the most popular companion animals, but there are some risks: hazards for the dog, hazards for the patient, sensory overload, dislike of the pet, and so on. Doll therapy has also been applied as a diversional therapy for dementia patients in Australia. With technology and robotics, there have even been studies based around a few electronic and robotic animal-shaped toys.
A stuffed animal can:
- Calm someone who is upset.
- Provide endless hours of hugs and smiles.
- Create a distraction from a dangerous, harmful or upsetting event.
- Serve as an attention-getter.
- Provide a tool for social interaction.
- Regenerate warm, nurturing feelings of caring for another.
- Make it possible for someone who is totally dependent upon others to care for “someone” else
"I love this product and wonder why we have not had something like it available long before now! So many times over the years, I have been assisting a person with a memory disorder who could have been very comforted by one of these soft, cuddly and very, very lifelike pets. Overwhelming research has shown that pets can be an enormous source of comfort and companionship to older adults.
However, many people with moderate to severe memory impairments can no longer own and care for a dog or a cat. Depending on the degree of a person’s memory impairment, a pet like this could be an enormous source of security, comfort and therapeutic activity. I have already told my family that if I develop a memory disorder, I want them to put a Memorable Pet on my lap and have a back up in the closet—preferably a black lab. What a great idea!" - Paula M. Taliaferro
Education Consultant, Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging
Support Group Facilitator for the Central Ohio Alzheimer’s Association since 1995
"I am a nurse on a secure Alzheimer’s care unit where we use a person-centered care approach with our patients. They respond well to gentle attention and care, and they also show a desire to give love and care. Two years ago, when I first met Betty, I was impressed by her attachment to Caldonia, her Memorable Pet cat. She clearly loves Caldonia and does not like to be separated from her. As a nurse, I became a bit concerned that Betty would become upset if Caldonia became lost, so we called her family and asked for a back-up Caldonia—just in case.
Betty has difficulty carrying on a conversation due to dementia, but she understands who Caldonia is when people ask about her and is always ready to show her off. Betty and Caldonia receive a lot of positive attention! If Caldonia is moved from Betty’s bed when someone is helping her get up or get dressed, Betty can become upset if she thinks Caldonia is not being handled with great care. Betty nurtures Caldonia by tucking her in bed with her and caressing her. It is very sweet to watch. Caldonia helps to calm Betty, especially if she is feeling agitated, and she helps to give Betty a nurturing, loving feeling. Their special bond has been a true gift for Betty and for us to watch". - Sarah Burdine R.N.
Of more importance in this situation is results and experiences of others and can be demonstrated through taking a look at a company, started by sisters Bettina Dickson Rusher and Frances Dickson, which came to fruition after their mother began her battle with Alzheimer’s.
“Our mother had a real cat which she loved, but once the Alzheimer’s set in she was unable to care for it properly, so we bought her a stuffed cat to keep her company,” Rusher said. “We were amazed at the joy the cat brought her and how attached she became. Before we knew it we were producing animals and and handing them out as gifts to other patients on her floor at the Veteran’s Center in Wilmore KY, which cared for mostly men. We could see the results with both men and women!”
In a March 2012 article, published and written by Shelley Webb, a Registered Nurse and founder of The Intentional Caregiver website, herself having been a caregiver for her father in her home, quoted Bettina Dickson as saying “Several studies have shown that interactions with a stuffed animal increase happiness and provide a calming effect. They’re also a great way to allow patients, who often have to rely on everyone else for care, to be able to care for something themselves,”.
Below are a number of testimonials from people using products available from Memorable Pets. The company now run by the sisters. They now offer a simple, inexpensive therapeutic prop that not only helps the patient / loved one, but also can take some of the pressure off the caregiver when a Memorable Pet is used as a security companion and soothing tool (click on images below for larger image).
Personal Note To Caregivers
What really appealed to me and why I chose to include them here is when you buy a Memorable Pet, they will donate $2.00 (approximately 15% of proceeds) for each pet sold to help support Alzheimers research with funding and support for care programs.
Their approach is simple ...
Memorable Pet chose promoting realistic looking stuffed animal dogs and cats over dolls for several reasons:
- First and foremost, this is what worked for thier mother…she was always an animal lover!
- It is a little easier for the family to see a man holding a stuffed animal rather than a doll
- We liked the tactile qualities of a stuffed animal…very soft and cuddly… washable
- We knew animal lovers would promote this concept as a way to help people
- The price point is much better… the dolls we have seen being used are $80- $200; we wanted to reach a wide economic class that could afford our product.
"I bought my step-mom, Betty, a Memorable Pet calico cat. “She has had Cali since December and I can’t begin to tell you what an important part of her life that cat has become. Betty is in assisted living and loves cats. Cali has a special place right next to Betty’s chair but more important, she has a special place in Betty’s heart. Cali is held, stroked and talked to daily. Thank you so much for these life-like animals who enrich the lives of so many.”
Diana, Coudersport PA
“We gave our Mother “Douglas” forChristmas. She at first was creeped out by him because he was always looking at her, she did get over that. She would have him sit in her chair with her and she would pet on him and talk to him. Unfortunately, Mom passed away March 2. I do know she grew to love Douglas up until the time she was hospitalized. I have Douglas now, I talk to him about Mom and pet and love on him.”
Kris, Memphis TN
“I bought a Memorable Pet dog for my husband who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. His reaction to his memorable pet is certainly positive, he has evenings where he’ll sit with the dog on his lap and caress it. He is always talking to it, like you would a puppy…he will sometimes carry it around as well.”
Jeanne, Manchester NH
“I bought the schnauzer for my mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s. We had to bring her dog to live with us when she went to assisted living and she misses him. I gave her the dog on Easter Sunday and she was delighted. Several staff members commented on how much he looked like her dog, Miles, and called him “mini-me.” I am hoping he brings her some comfort as she is agitated quite often. I love the softness of the animal and hair and she loves him so the feedback is great.”
Linda, Shreveport LA
“I bought a Memorable Pets dog for my husband who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. His reaction to his memorable pet is certainly positive, he has evenings where he’ll sit with the dog on his lap and caress it. He is always talking to it, like you would a puppy…he will sometimes carry it around as well.” Jeanne, Manchester NH
To view the full range of Memorable Pets ... CLICK HERE
THE CAREGIVER ROLE
What is a Caregiver
The Caregiver Defined
Who Do Caregivers Care For
Accepting the Reality of Dementia
6 Steps to Successful Caregiving
Caregiver's Are Not Alone
Asking For & Getting Help
The Caregiver Code
Rights of a Caregiver
Unmet Needs Of A Caregiver
Caregiver And Work
Feelings And Caregiver Stress
Questions & Answers
STRESS, COPING & FEELINGS
The Caregiver Code
Rights of The Caregiver
Coping With Stress
Feelings And Caregiver Stress
Stages Of Alzheimer's
Helping Children Understand
Protecting Yourself From Burnout
Making Time For Reflection
How is Competency Defined?
Power of Attorney
What is an Advanced Directive?
Do I Really Need a Will or a Trust?
Importance of Communication
Communicating With Someone Who Has Alzheimer's
Your Approach Sets The Tone
Think Before You Speak
Doing Tasks Together
Having Trouble Being Understood
Things NOT To Do
When It Just Fails
TIPS AND ISSUES
New To Family Caregiving?
Tips For Dealing with Aggression
Places To Turn For Caregiver Supoort
Take Advantage of Community Support
Random Tips From Other Caregivers
Providing Long Distance Care
When To Stop Driving
Dealing With Family Conflict
Tips on Sundowning
Helping Children Understand
Pet & Toy Therapy
Tips For Medical Appointments
Dealing With Resistance
Tips For Day To Day
Intimacy And Sexuality
Visiting A Person With Dementia
Music And Dementia
Tips For Holidays And Gatherings
Art as Home Therapy
RESEARCH & DONATIONS