Teddies ease anxiety for dementia patients

A child can often find comfort or security in a doll or a teddy bear.

Those cuddly toys can evoke the same feelings in some adults.

“We used to just hand out teddies to kids in the emergency room. Now we also hand them out to seniors with dementia,” says Stacey Lynn Brewster, Registered Nurse and Acting Program Manager for the Emergency department (ED) at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital.  

Stacey says floor nurses asked that teddies also be given to dementia patients as a way of helping to reduce their anxiety in the ED.

The nurses’ practical insight also turns out to be supported by a growing body of research.

Recent studies have looked at seniors with dementia who are being cared for in various settings including homes, care centres and long-term care facilities. Some of the findings show that giving a toy, a baby doll or a teddy bear to seniors with dementia can help reduce symptoms of anxiety, agitation and even aggressive behaviour.

Stacey notes that the practice of giving a free teddy has been very useful and beneficial to the dementia patients. “The teddy bear provides a way for them to focus on a specific thing while they are being cared for by the medical staff.”

The ED can be an uncomfortable place for patients with dementia due to the noise, bright lights and people needing medical care, says Stacey. “They often are in a dire situation, plus they are outside of their normal environment.”  

Stacey says they have been handing out the teddies to dementia patients in the Grey Nuns ED for the past year. “We give out about half a dozen of them every month. And each time you hand one out, you instantly see a smile. It is something that they can hold on to and it helps calm them down.”

(From left) Nora Geertsen, Gene Wladyka and Jeanette Marcotte are among the 13 volunteer teddy bear knitters at the Grey Nuns Hospital.

The teddies are made by a team of volunteers at the Grey Nuns Hospital who produce a few dozen of them every month, says Teresa Lucier, Manager, Volunteer Services.

“They put so much love into making them and they feel a real sense of purpose because they know that it can make a difference in a patient’s life.”

Jeanette Marcotte, one of the 13 volunteer teddy bear knitters at Grey Nuns, says she feels good knowing her efforts are helping others.

“If a teddy bear is helping somebody get over the fear of anything, then it is worth every stitch.”

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