Therapy dolls giving memory care residents a new purpose

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Nyla Gunderson has found a new sense of purpose caring, loving, and nurturing a life-like doll.

“It just, I think, brings her back to… holding a baby,” said Gunderson’s daughter, Tami Paulson.

The 77-year-old was diagnosed with dementia in 2012.

She’s one of 6 residents at a memory care facility in Grants Pass who were donated a therapy doll on Wednesday.

“They’re very life-like, they’re weighted, they fit in infant clothing. They wear diapers,” said Jamie Callahan, Founder & Co-CEO of Team Senior Referral Services.

It’s part of a pilot program from Rogue Valley organizations, Team Senior Referral Services and Home Instead Senior Care, aimed at improving the lives of memory care residents.

“We want them to be as life-like and as believable as possible for them, so they can make that genuine connection and bond and, in a sense, give them a purpose again,” said Callahan.

Callahan says doll therapy is proven to decrease stress and agitation in people who have Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Callahan remembers giving a doll to her grandma who has Alzheimer’s and says it was a life-changing moment.

“She would look very kind of long and sullen on a regular basis, but now that she has her baby that she’s taking care of, her world kind of revolves around the baby now,” said Callahan.

The doll also helps residents develop a bond with something consistent, even if their world seems like its ever-changing.

“The brain is shrinking, it’s atrophying and brain cells are dying… and they’re losing a lot of who they once were,” said Peggy Webster, Director of Operations for Heirloom Living Centers.

And for Gunderson’s family, how she cares for the doll is a reminder of the loving mother and person she once was.

“She’s still in there… she’s still our mom,” said Rob Gunderson. “That means everything to us to be able to come here and still feel the love that she has in her.”

If your loved one has Alzheimer’s or dementia, you may be eligible to get a free doll for them.

Here’s how to apply.

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