Resident Harriet Trotter visits with Shawna Bradford

Rose Wood introduces doll therapy program

Residents find joy and purpose interacting with baby dolls.

Shawna Bradford sings “You Are My Sunshine” over the shoulder of a resident who swaddles a baby doll at Rose Wood Village.

The director of clinical care at the seniors’ facility in Trail is one of the driving forces behind the new Doll Therapy Program.

In partnership with Stephanie Braxmeier, facility recreational therapist, Bradford implemented the program two weeks ago to add purpose and joy to seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia.

“We did have residents who had dolls and were using them, and what we found was in times of anxiety or when they start to sundown, which is common for people with dementia, giving them a baby doll to either look after or to hold triggered a positive memory,” she said.

“It provides a distraction and comfort, it connects them with their memories often at times, or it can lead to a meaningful purpose.”

The chronic neurodegenerative disease can start slowly and get worse over time or come on fast. The most common early symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events but as the disease advances, symptoms can include problems with language, disorientation, mood swings, loss of motivation, not managing self-care, and behavioural issues. As a person’s condition declines, they often withdraw from family and society.

“What happens is they fade, and so it’s really difficult for families because they don’t see the person who they once knew and often what they say is there is quite a significant depression that happens,” said Bradford, who is a registered nurse. “Anger and physical lashing out can occur because of their own frustration and when they’re on the cusp and they know they’re losing their memory, it’s a very difficult place to be.”

The Doll Therapy Program connects seniors with foundation memories imprinted in the brain. Though the idea is still fresh for Rose Wood, both Bradford and Braxmeier say it’s catching on and adding real value to residents who are taking to the concept.

One man who is quite vocal and can get agitated will settle right down when someone places a doll in his arms while others open up and share stories, some that stretch back a lifetime.

“Sometimes it’s really amazing what you can hear; what they’ll share or what they’ll remember,” said Bradford. “It’s very moving.”

The idea came together with help from a local chapter of Bags of Hope, which bought into the “baby doll program” by collecting and restoring donated dolls and creating bunting bags and quilts to accompany the freshened up dolls.

Rose Wood now has seven baby dolls in its “rust” neighbourhood.

Even residents who aren’t suffering from dementia seem to enjoy the benefits of participating in the program, as they swap stories from their child-rearing years and raising babies of their own.

Braxmeier recently introduced the philosophy after seeing how well it worked in one-on-one care. It fits in well with other recreation programs like yoga, baking, and dog therapy, which promote physical interaction and can often trigger memory through the use of all senses.

“There is an assumption sometimes when people come into care that that’s the end of their life,” explained Bradford. “What we want to try and do is look at proving opportunities or meaningful experiences can continue to enhance their life throughout the remainder of whatever their days are.”

The Doll Therapy Program is bubbling with more ideas rising to the top, like the creation of a community corner within the facility. The women envision a clothesline and other whimsical details that will further stir a feeling of home.

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