Reaching Out with Dolls

Friends, all summer I have been meaning to write about a special time Brianna and I had together.  My Grandma (Brianna’s Great-Grandma) is in Assisted Living.  Every time we visit, we make a point of bringing one of our dolls along.  My Grandma always enjoys having one of our girls riding on her scooter with her, and it’s a must to take the doll to the dining room where they are a source of many smiles.

Grandma and Grace on the Move!

Grandma and Grace on the Move!

Our church recently had a service day and I noticed many members went to the Lutheran Home to sing, play instruments and such.  It gave me the idea to take our dolls out to share our passion with women who may not have dolls as a part of their life anymore.

noexif_IMG_5979_privateI contacted my Grandma’s Assisted Living center and worked with the Occupational Therapy department to book a time slot.  My Grandma was thrilled!  We wanted to talk about the historical dolls, but first we needed more historicals!  Two neighbors were extremely trusting and gracious to let us borrow their PC Nellie and Samantha dolls.  (At that time we didn’t have Caroline and Kit.)  Getting all these girls into their historical outfits took some effort!  We brought Grace in a hospital gown so we could talk about the AG Doll Hospital.

See you when we get there!

See you when we get there!

We wrote a script and kept it pretty basic … just enough to learn about the doll’s time in history and some of the unique challenges each character overcomes.  We also talked about Pleasant Rowland and her vision in creating the doll line.  Our greater purpose was to provide the sense of touching a doll, seeing a doll, and recalling dolls in the residents’ own lives.

Seniors and DollsWe were slotted against the local Senior Choir… and I am happy to say we held our own in attendance, thank you very much!  A half-hour before our presentation we already had a front row forming!  My mom came, too, so this was a 4-generation initiative.  She helped transport some ladies.  We lined up our dolls on a table.  Isabelle came along too… we wanted enough dolls to go around.  The Precious Moments doll was brought by one of the residents to share at our “doll show.”

Version 2I wish I could show you the photos of the smiles on the ladies’ faces!  Here is a resident enjoying Samantha’s amazing hair.  If you saw the rest of the photo it would warm your heart to see the BIG SMILE!  When Brianna talked, I walked a doll around.  Then we switched spots.  Having a microphone was very important to making this a success.

Version 2

Touching Samantha’s Thick Hair

One of the highlights of the afternoon was giving the attendees time to talk about the dolls in their lives.  We heard stories of doll’s heads coming off, dolls whose name would change every time their brother had a new girlfriend, and one woman shared that she had a custom Scandinavian outfit sewn for a Barbie doll.  That’s some doll love!

I have since learned that in many countries, dolls are a well-researched therapy aid — especially for memory care patients.  Some studies found that Alzheimer’s disease patients were better able to eat in the dining facility if they had their doll to care for at the same time.  This effect was noted even in people who never had children.  Stuffed animals did not have the same results.

My view is that whether you are 3 or 103, there is a basic human need to care for other beings.  During some life stages that is not possible, but a doll is a way to express this instinct.  I well remember Brianna lining up stuffed animals at age 2 or 3 and giving them each their bottle.  For older adults, days can be long and even TV and reading can be a challenge for failing hearing and vision.  A doll is always there as a friend.

We have requests to continue our outreach at other senior facilities, and we hope to give another program before the year ends.  My Grandma is already lobbying for us to come back!  You know I get as excited about the latest American Girl release as the next doll fan, but I am grateful we have found a way to give a deeper meaning to our acquisitions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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17 thoughts on “Reaching Out with Dolls

  1. Sharry A.

    What a fantastic story! That’s a great way to reach out! Be sure to take more pics the next time you go and give your grandma (and great grandma) a hug from all of us here at Julie Newman’s Time Capsule!

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    1. Jen Post author

      Hi Sharry, thanks for sending your hug and we will definitely pass that on! We didn’t want to post any identifying pictures because I assume privacy laws cover medical facilities. When we had lunch in the cafe that day we heard, “Look! It’s the doll ladies!”
      Great Grandma even asked for a high chair for her doll in the cafe and that drummed up attendees too!

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  2. ADayLateADollShort

    Wow, that is fantastic! I never thought about a doll being something someone can always have even when everything else is difficult.

    I know my doll love came from my grandmother and I was thrilled to be able to show her my doll that is modeled after her last year. She got a real kick out it.

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    1. Jen Post author

      That’s neat that you share doll love in your family. My daughter and I share this passion, and we are working on the rest of them. Even my husband has a soft spot for Kit though!
      I would love to learn more about your doll inspired by your Grandma… Have you written about that or am I forgetting?

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    1. Jen Post author

      That’s neat that you had the idea to share your collection too! As I get older I realize I need to act on crazy ideas, because life’s too short to put them on the back burner!

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  3. jackylina

    Wow! What a neat thing to do!! My grandma had Alzheimer’s before she died, and in her assisted living home, they had a little alcove which had a bunch of baby dolls, cribs, nursery doll items, etc, for the residents, and there would be times when I’d see a resident rocking a baby doll in the rocking chair or feeding a bottle to it. It was sweet to see. Instead of dolls though, every year around Christmas time, I go caroling with my church choir to nearby nursing homes. Perhaps I should think about bringing a doll with me…

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    1. Jen Post author

      That’s great that your Grandma’s care facility had opportunities to experience life activities that were play-based.
      I am a little excited about a doll Caroling with you! I definitely have a vision for the historicals and their gorgeous Christmas dresses playing a role in a seasonal presentation. The neat thing about a doll is it has a visual and tactile experience. There’s a whole range of crafts that could accompany historical dolls as well.

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  4. Xyra

    What a wonderful idea! It is true that dolls are very good therapy for some – sparking memories and fondness.

    It is very interesting to see who likes dolls and who doesn’t. In one of our outings I asked fora picture of the woman with Melody and she lovingly placed her on her lap and smoothed out her dress. The next person I asked clutched her in one hand and held her about 6 inches from her body. 🙂

    Returning to the community seasonally would be fun. You could talk about holiday traditions and such. I bet a lot of the participants could tell you more about some of the historical eras than what American Girl has shared with us. Ladies who lived through Kit’s or Molly’s time period.

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    1. Jen Post author

      And now you know how I talked myself into getting Kit at the Madison Benefit sale! We needed a historical from the earlier 20th Century. No regrets! We look forward to taking her out with us since her story is so rich. Now we just need a local Molly!

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  5. Flo

    What a great story and idea! It’s amazing how things like this can be so beneficial to the elderly. I remember years ago when I worked in a frame shop, we did a project for a local nursing home that specialized in Alzheimer patients. They purchased 2 of these giant textured wall murals–they had all sorts of things on them ranging from yarn to sandpaper. They said that it was an aid in memory recall–someone would “pet” the piece of fur and remember a pet that they had owned, someone playing with the yarn would remember learning to tie their shoes and so on. I’m sure that for some of the patients you met, this served a very similar need. What a great experience for both of you too!

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    1. Jen Post author

      It was a great experience for both of us. I didn’t know if Brianna would be scared by residents who are outside of what she is used to. She wasn’t disturbed and you couldn’t ask for a better and more accepting audience for a novice public speaker.
      As you say, the dolls … It’s not really about AG… It’s about connecting with memories. We also talked about how many of these ladies sewed doll clothes in their day.

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  6. Message In A Fold

    What a heart warming blog post. Smiling through tears as I read this post I felt so much joy when you shared the memories of the residents of the assisted living center. One brief period of time each person was whisked back to their younger days and their much loved dolls.

    Your Grandmother, your mother, you, and your daughter….four generations of wonderful women….setting up this event – Fabulous! Just Fabulous!
    Leslie

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    1. Jen Post author

      Aw, thanks Leslie. I am glad we took the risk of being thought of as crazy doll people (if the shoe fits…) The OTA was all for our visit, but then we had some delay on scheduling on her end. She is very busy caring for residents, so no hard feelings. I wrote my Grandma and asked if there was any problem, was the OTA on vacation, etc., and my Grandma went right down there to tell her to contact us!! Thanks Grandma. She also made sure every lady on that wing knew we were coming.
      Walking around with dolls is kind of like having a friendly old Golden Retriever… you can’t help but bring a smile wherever you go! I am glad you could feel the joy we felt that day.

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