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Vanderhoof Library gets new life-like baby doll for dementia therapy

Cradling the weighted doll is a very comforting, therapeutic experience
Vanderhoof Library’s latest addition to its cognitive kit is a lifelike baby doll. The doll, made by local artist Shirley Funk, can be borrowed from the library using the same process as checking out a book. ( Photo courtesy, Sara Hara)

A life-like doll added to the Vanderhoof Library’s cognitive kit collection is fast becoming an interesting experience for many community members.

Made by Vanderhoof-based artist Shirley Funk, the doll which looks like a human baby, was purchased with the specific purpose of bringing comfort to individuals with dementia, said Sara Hara from the Vanderhoof Library.

The doll can be borrowed by library members for up to three weeks and the process is the same as checking out a book.

So far the reactions to the doll have been interesting, said Hara. “It’s very interesting how people react in different ways when they hold her.”

“I think a lot of people’s first is that it is strange and weird and then they just take a moment to realize this is a valuable tool to continue a relationship with a person experiencing dementia,” Hara said.

Cradling the weighted doll is a very comforting experience for all age groups. Hara said there were young children in the library who were fascinated by the doll and gingerly supported its head while carrying it so carefully and then there were others who couldn’t be bothered to take more than one glance at it.

But Hara highly recommends just coming and holding the doll.

“We can’t wait to hear the stories of families in the community,” she said.

For people with dementia lifelike dolls or soft toy animals can have great benefits for some people with dementia, particularly in the later stages. They can promote feelings of relaxation and pleasure, and are considered a form of therapy — not merely “playing” with a toy.

Holding, or even just being with a doll or soft toy animal, such as a cat or dog, can be particularly helpful for people who are withdrawn, restless, distressed or anxious, improving their well being and ability to communicate. The sensation of holding a doll or toy animal can be soothing. It might remind them of a time when they had young children or a pet of their own.

Some people with dementia experience “sundowning” — a state of intense confusion and distress that typically occurs in the evening. They may feel a strong need to go home, even if they are already at home, or to collect their child from school, even if they are grown up. Having a doll or toy animal to focus on at this time of day may ease these feelings of distress and insecurity.

“Caring” for a doll or soft toy can also give people with dementia a renewed sense of purpose and help them connect with the outside world. This can have a knock-on effect on their energy, activity levels and mood.

If there are younger people in the family, such as grandchildren or in the case of young onset dementia — where symptoms develop before the age of 65, the person’s own children — playing with or talking about the toy together could help them interact and foster feelings of closeness.