Monday, January 14, 2019

Dementia Doll Therapy and Caregivers (Research, Video 3:05)

“Does this baby have a heartbeat?”

I have served several years as a hospice volunteer in Detroit, MI nursing homes where I have interacted with many residents who had dementia. They often needed various stimuli to become engaged in approaches that were more likely to be successful with them from a person-centered perspective. Doll therapy was often successful. This excerpt from my book Becoming Dead Right is an example :

“What’s your baby’s name?” I asked while exploring the reality of a hospice resident who had dementia. Susan, who was the resident, and her doll stared at each other, grinning as if they knew secrets from ancient times. And maybe they did. She looked at me, pointed to her doll and said, “She’ll tell you her name when you come back with cookies.” (Very clever baby!)

Doll therapy research focused on reducing behavioral and psychological

symptoms of dementia has increased in clinical practice. The aim of the research discussed in this post was to measure the impact of doll therapy on people with severe dementia and the related distress and impact on everyday behavior of formal caregivers. Twenty-nine nursing home residents aged from 76 to 96 years old and who had severe dementia (Alzheimer's or vascular dementia), took part in the experiment. They were randomly assigned to an experimental group that used dolls or an active control group that used hand warmers with sensory characteristics equivalent to the dolls. Effects of doll therapy on caregivers’ everyday abilities such as eating behavior were also examined. 

This research concluded that only the doll therapy group showed a reduction in behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia scores and related caregiver distress. Doll therapy did not benefit eating behavior of caregivers, however. 

As a hospice volunteer, I observed how easily many residents with dementia enjoyed their close relationships with dolls and stuffed or robotic animals. In this video, a caregiving daughter does doll therapy with her mother who is past middle stage dementia. I found this video particularly interesting because, unlike many residents I have observed, this mother seems to know her doll is not a real baby. But she still enjoys nurturing the doll. She also continues to question if the doll really isn't real. The daughter wonders if the doll therapy is truly appropriate for her mother. This video shares the mother’s response. (Do you remember playing with dolls as if they were real when you knew they weren’t? I do. )

If you liked the video above, you'll appreciate this one with a man enjoying his pet therapy cat:

Frances Shani Parker, Author 
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Ending Negative Older Adult Stereotypes (Video 4:08)

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Does this ageism stereotype sound familiar when people refer to themselves this way? We should all be very careful about the words we use regarding ourselves and others. Words can be very powerful, so powerful that we may not realize that saying them helps us form our own positive and negative opinions about ourselves, even when we are joking.

Many of the words we say, the thoughts we imagine, such as those related to negative aging stereotypes, often creep into our belief systems and become a part of who we are. This process is demonstrated with children as early as the age of three who have already started believing negative stereotypes about aging that they have learned through the media and other people, including older adults living in the age cage with stereotypes they have internalized about themselves. Of course, positive concepts about aging have the opposite effect by improving lives.

These are just a few examples of how our lives can be impacted by verbalizing these stereotypes on aging that affirm a prejudice against ourselves as we age.

Negative Stereotypes:

I’m having a senior moment.

You know I’m old and can’t remember anything.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Negative Consequences:

Memory can decrease, and we can become less interested in engaging in healthy preventive or new behaviors that we are capable of doing at our age.

Negative Stereotypes:

When you age, everything hurts, and what doesn't hurt doesn't work.

After a certain age, you can forget about having sex.

When you’re old, you need your false teeth and your hearing aid before you can ask where you left your glasses.

Negative Consequences:

Negative age stereotypes have significant negative effects on the physical well-being of older persons. Recovery from illness is impaired, reactions to stress are increased, and longevity is decreased.

Sure, it would be great if employers, politicians, healthcare workers, and everybody else in society treated older adults with more dignity and respect without stereotyping them negatively. Unfortunately, many of these people are simply embracing the same negative stereotypes that too many older adults perpetuate about themselves. Shouldn’t we all just affirm our own healthy aging by promoting positive images about ourselves? Shouldn’t we just live our best lives and not limit ourselves based on our age numbers?

Millennials are people who reached young adulthood around the year 2000. This video demonstrates how many of them have already internalized negative stereotypes about aging that may become self-fulfilling if they do not change. 

Children start believing stereotypes early. You can read research our school fourth graders did on older adult stereotypes here:

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog