Francisca Benitez

Community Kindness of Eastern Oregon has been helping seniors with dementia by giving them dolls and other comforting items. The new nonprofit has donated two dolls to seniors so far and has plans to donate at least two more. Both dolls were given to seniors at Wildflower lodge, but Liz Meyer, president of Community Kindness, said she hopes to place dolls with seniors all over the area.

Lifelike baby dolls dressed up in baby clothes and being treated like they are real babies might seem strange, but Meyer said the joy the residents have when they receive one is unique and special.

“They light up,” she said. “It sends them back to the nurturing days of being a parent and brings back good memories.”

Jenna Wright, assistant executive director at Wildflower Lodge, agreed.

“It really is absolutely moving,” she said.

Wright explained residents with dementia can often feel anxious or depressed, and the dolls can help relieve those feelings. The residents don’t necessarily believe they are holding a real baby, though.

“Just because someone has dementia doesn’t mean they can’t tell the difference between reality and a doll,” she said. “A lot of our ladies and men in the community, where they are in the progression in the disease, they are looking for their children. And if those children are infants in their mind, it can be very comforting to have that feeling of holding a baby and then combining it with the stimulation of soft blankets, the smell of baby powder, those kinds of sensory things.”

Wright said often times residents with dementia become nonverbal, and a doll can encourage them to speak because they might speak to the baby, or want to show their baby to others. The doll also gives residents a sense of responsibility, which can help fend off feelings of depression and improve their quality of life.

Wright said the dolls are a way to help residents with dementia deal with the emotional hardships that come with the disease without using lots of pharmaceutical medications, which is better for the resident.

Both Meyer and Wright said when a doll is given to a resident, it is an extremely emotional moment. They both expressed it was hard to describe just how much joy a doll can bring to a dementia patient.

“To see them pouring on so much affection to this doll or talking to this doll (is) very sweet. It soothes them and makes them feel like they have a purpose,” Wright said.

Meyer said she is glad Community Kindness is able to give residents a moment of happiness.

Meyer is taking donated dolls and baby items as well as monetary donations to be used for the project. She said for some residents, toy dogs or cats might be more suitable than a baby doll, and some residents prefer stimulating items like fidget toys and blankets. Community Kindness is working toward providing those types of items too. To contact Meyer, call 541-805-1410.

Contact Francisca Benitez at 541-963-3161 or email fbenitez@lagrandeobserver.com

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