Sometimes a doll will help elderly with Alzheimer’s according to British Psychological Society

Nursing home in UK studied the effects of giving dolls to Alzheimer’s residents and presented findings at The British Psychological Society Conference in July of 2006. The nursing home found that the dolls seemed to reduce agitation or distress, improve communication problems and make residents less withdrawn. The nursing home staff seemed to feel that the introduction of the dolls with certain elderly Alzheimer’s residents improver quality of life.

Dolls at The Wealshire, Lincolnshire, Illinois

While some elderly residents have gone through periods of time when we would always see them with their doll, the vast majority of elderly do not carry comfort toys. But when the  elderly are in late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, having something to hold can comfort those with limited psychosocial interaction. When the elderly have lost their ability to communicate verbally, they may still be able to connect through touch.

Great alternative to doll – “Twiddle Cat”

While a doll can increase some anxiety in elderly with dementia, because at times they think it is real and are worried for the doll. The Twiddle Cat provides not only the comfort and warmth of a doll but provides for the elder a safe activity. The elderly can finger the ribbons, wooden beads, bag of marbles and soft satin pocket while appreciating the joy of movement of their hands and doing something.

The “cat” is a stuffed muff with a squeeze ball in the center of the muff. It has a sweet cat face on one end with ears and a soft tail at the other end. The cute little “cat” provides for increased communication between residents and staff.   The staff then can initiate conversation with the resident about their cat.

The Twiddle Cat is a great comfort toy and a great on-going independent activity.

See the Twiddle Cat @ web site – Best Alzheimer’s Products

See also Blogs here on: Alzheimer’s Activities

Virginia Garberding, R.N.

Director of Education, The Wealshire, Lincolnshire, Illinois

Author: Please Get To Know Me – Aging with Dignity and Relevance

Holiday Activities for the Confused Elderly That Prompt Reminiscing

Look at Christmas Lights

This was a big Christmas tradition years ago, when I was growing up. In several neighborhoods in Chicago, the blocks were all set up with holiday themes. Cars would be bumper to bumper crawling around those blocks just to see every house with a lighted candy cane. The whole family would be bundled up, in the car and off to see the lights.

Now almost every homeowner has invested part of their decoration budget into outdoor decorations. No one has to go very far to see amazing Christmas light shows. Some communities also have large displays, where for a modest amount you can once again crawl along bumper to bumper at peak times.

Bundle up Grandma and Grandpa, pick up some hot chocolate, and just go for a drive to see the lights.

Go to the mall and watch the children sit on Santa’s lap

Every mall has a Santa and a line of children waiting to see him. “Children watching” in general is a great activity for the elderly, but especially so at Christmas time. Being in the environment of people shopping, holiday decorations, Christmas music playing and children seeing Santa can help the confused elderly connect to emotional memories.

Being in the mall can have the added benefit of providing a safe place to walk and the so important exercise the elderly need. Make sure you are going at times of lower activity – a crowd is not the place to be for a person unsure of what is going on around them.

Christmas church services and pageants

Find out when all your local churches are having special Christmas services. Being a part of a congregation singing carols is a normalization activity for the confused elderly. When the church is decorated with large trees, lots of lights, Christmas music, the choir singing, all of these things prompt emotional memories.

Many elderly with Alzheimer’s disease who have lost their ability for conversation continue to be able to sing. Especially long remembered carols that are stored in many different areas of the brain are still available to the elder as emotional memories.

(See also: November 30, 2009 -Elderly Christians need their Church)

Look at Christmas Trees

If weather permits, go to a Christmas tree lot and walk around critiquing the trees. Which one looks good on all sides, which one is more of a Charlie Brown tree.

Department stores, home stores even hardware stores all have displays of decorated Christmas trees to see. Trees with different themes and various choices of ornaments and lights. This year they have even brought back the old fashioned large colored ceramic bulbs I grew up with. These are the bulbs I put on my tree this year, we all enjoy the things we remember as children.

Think about your family’s traditions and how you can still bring the spirit of the holiday to your elder. Even if it just sitting together and listening to “The Little Drummer Boy.”

Virginia Garberding, R.N.

Director of Education, The Wealshire

Author: Please Get To Know Me – Aging with Dignity and Relevance

Caregiver Tips: Activities for the confused elderly in the home


Activities start with knowing the person.

I just met a daughter who had put together a “gardening cart” for her elderly father. I could tell by the smile on her face as she described it, the joy she felt in doing this for Dad. He had always enjoyed gardening and now in his wheelchair, sitting at a cart just the right hight for the chair. This elderly man could have all the tools of the trade right at his reach, and continue to enjoy an activity that had been so meaningful to him.

A home traveling activity.

The beauty of the garden cart for that elderly man was it could move. He could garden outside or inside any time of the year. There are many kinds of carts available to turn into activity centers for the home. Small tool carts for men made out of light weight rubber materials available at hardware stores or catalogs. Kitchen carts for women that could be turned into any number of craft centers.

The confused elderly who want to continue to “work.”

I have seen elderly doctors who in the Nursing Home really enjoy being included in staff activities. We have put together patient charts, just to hand to the doctor to give to him the chance to feel involved.
JCPenny catalogue has what they call a “Billpayer’s Desk” on wheels, that could be perfect for the former office worker. It has compartments for pens, paper clips, folders a large file drawer. Many hours of activity could happen at his desk.

Finding that perfect activity for the confused elderly.

Caregiving always comes back to really knowing the person you are caring for. What were their interests?
Puttting together that perfect activity center for they elder can be very rewarding for the caregiver as well as the elder. I know that from the smile on the face of the “gardener’s daughter.”

Alzheimer’s disease, not a part of normal aging memory loss or a “Senior Moment.”

Memory Loss

Distractions prevent forming new memories.

You walk into the house, your husband is calling to you “What are we having for dinner?” The phone is ringing and the TV is on at peak volume. You put down your groceries and run to get the phone in the bedroom, where you can hear. You put down your car keys next to the phone. The next morning when you need to run out to a doctor’s appointment, you can’t find your keys.

Distractions, they are all around us. It is so much harder to set down a new memory, when we are surrounded by distractions. But the first thing an older person worries about when they forget, is that this might be the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

4 Differences between normal aging memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.

• When trying to remember a past event, the senior with normal memory loss will often remember parts of the event and often at a later time be able to remember the whole event. The person with Alzheimer’s disease will rarely have better recall at a later time. And it doesn’t really bother them unless someone keeps calling it to their attention that they can’t remember.
• A senior with normal aging memory loss will usually be helped by keeping a detailed calendar, writing themselves notes and reminders. While this will also help the person with Alzheimer’s disease, gradually these aids will no longer help.
• A senior, with normal aging memory loss, will be able to follow written directions, while the person with Alzheimer’s disease will gradually be unable to do this.
• A person with Alzheimer’s disease will eventually be unable to identify money. Will forget how to dress themselves, feed themselves and do all the things we refer to as Activities of Daily Living.

The next time you can’t find your car keys, think about the many young people who loose their keys as well.

Caregiver Tips: Activities to do when the confused elder you care for is a man.


Know the person – what did the elderly man you care for enjoy before he became confused?

Watching funny DVDs together can be an especially wonderful connection for a father with his son.

My father-in-law suffered from dementia. My husband, Jerry, knew his dad had enjoyed Laurel and Hardy films as well as those of Ma and Pa Kettle–the comedies of the 1930s and 1940s. Jerry found as many of those old movies as he could and brought them to the nursing home. On his visits, Jerry didn’t have to carry on long one-sided conversations.

When Jerry visited, he would tell his dad what was new with him and the family. After that, he put on an old movie and his dad laughed every time Jerry would laugh. We never knew how much he followed the story, or even “saw” the slap-stick comedy. But he could still enjoy that comfortable, normal activity of sitting with his son and laughing.

4 Activites for the confused elderly man:

• Watch a DVD on travel, sports, history – whatever the man likes.
• Have something from his past interests – fishing pole, anything from a collection he had ( my dad had a tie collection that he enjoyed looking at),
• Read sports magazines together or look at new car brochures. Both are excellent opportunities for conversation.
• Most men like to do something physical. do that but keep it simple. Toss a ball or throw bean bags. These kinds of activities are also great to do with children.
Book excerpt from: Please Get To Know Me – Aging with Dignity and Relevance by Virginia Garberding with Cecil Murphey
available at: – – or see right sidebar direct from publisher.

Alzheimer’s Disease: “Oh happy happy wedding day” when the delusions of confused elder seem so real.

Alzheimer's Disease Delusions

Alzheimer’s in the Nursing Home

I was told by the Director of Acitivites that we had a “situation” in one of the households. When I got there, there they were, sitting together so incredibly happy in their shared delusion. Bertha all dressed up in a beautiful red and pink flowered organza dress. Hair carefully fixed and bright red lipstick on. Next to her equally glowing her best friend Sally in a black two piece with a black sequenced jacket.

Greeting them with a “Wow, do you both look great, what is the occasion.” With irresistible smiles they both informed me that Bertha was getting married today.

Past elder care for the confused.

There was a time about 20 years ago when the wisdom of the time said that you needed to re-orient people with Alzheimer’s disease to the present. And many time that present would be very hurtful. Thinking of those days now and the current reality. How hurtful would it be to say “You are 84 years old, have Alzheimer’s disease, live in a nursing home and no one is getting married today.”

 Current Alzheimer’s care says – join them in the moment.

But this is a kinder, gentler time and so we try to work with their reality and join them in the moment. The first thing we needed to do was  identify her “intended” and find out where he is in this scenario. The staff member returns with the information that Bob is only expecting a visit from his son today, he has no other plans.  

The consensus is reached that we need to provide some kind of event for these sweet, happy ladies today. So we plan a get together for the residents that afternoon where we will have a few festive decorations, some refreshments, and a little wine we use on Friday afternoons for “Happy Hour.”    Then we will have a short speech by the director of Activities about friendship and everyone will toast the happy friends.

 And so it went. No one was told that they were wrong, old or confused. 

Oh happy, happy friendship day!

Caregiver Tips: Don’t forget the music, elderly or disabled people enjoy music just like everyone else


Person centered music for the confused elderly.

Everyone knows how certain music can bring back pleasant memories, and put you back in the moment. While some people enjoy very specific music many people enjoy a variety of music. The important thing is to learn what the elder you are caring for likes.

Many caregivers find that playing certain music can make the person they care for more cooperative and generally happier.

8 Benefits of music for the confused elder.

• Music is an energizer – put on a little high energy music with a good beat and sees how quicker you can accomplish a task. Caregivers have found that energizing music helps during bathing, dressing and grooming.
• Music can be used as a distraction from pain. Hospice caregivers are well known for using music.
• Music has been known to lower blood pressure and increase relaxation. Knowing the person you are caring for and what music they find relaxing is important.
• Music increases a sense of well being and improves self-esteem.
• Music many times will decrease anxiety – try music before medication.
• Music is a natural motivator and can provide a sense of control.
• Christian music provides comfort, peace as well as opportunity for reminiscing.
• Music provides JOY.

Caregiver Tips: Don’t overlook the power of a pet, Therapy Dogs International, also do home visits.

Elderly in nursing homes love to see pets.

I was walking through the facility and a friendly woman was coming towards me with what appeared at first glance to be a baby carriage. In fact it was our Therapy Dog Team visiting residents. The carriage was just the right size for the tiny black and white lap dog inside and at just the right height for an elderly person in a wheelchair to enjoy.

When a family or direct caregiver is too overwhelmed to take on the added responsibility of a pet. The benefits of visiting with an animal on a regular basis can still be enjoyed through organizations like Therapy Dogs International.

Animals create a sense of normalcy for the elderly.

When you arrange home visits or nursing home visits, the visiting dog can give the loved one a sense of normalcy and make life seem more manageable. Animals make life feel more complete while they give unconditional love and acceptance.

A visiting dog team can give the caregiver a little break as they visit and occupy the attention of the loved one. Many time the team becomes part of the family and even is a welcome participant at funerals to comfort families

God surrounded them with animals.
Randy Alcorn stated in his best selling book Heaven “Adam, Noah, and Jesus are the three heads of the three earths. When Adam was created, God surrounded him with animals. When Noah was delivered from the flood, God surrounded him with animals. When Jesus was born, God surrounded him with animals. When Jesus establishes the renewed Earth, with renewed men and women, don’t you think he’ll surround himself with renewed animals?”

Contact Therapy Dogs International, Inc. for home visits and look for Heaven by Randy Alcorn in your local book store for insight on God’s plan for animals.