Mar 4, 2009

Women collect dolls to benefit Alzheimer's patients

The daughter felt sad and "shook up" when leaving St. Elizabeth's after a visit. After we gave her the baby doll, I never felt sad again when I left, she said. So it was very liberating for me.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room


Two Catonsville mothers, Wendy Geist and Amy Nelson, have initiated a volunteer project of collecting used dolls to ease the suffering and bring joy to seniors experiencing Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. The women say, " beneficial effects can be amazing."

Well count me in, my mother loves dolls and handles them all the time. She also loves anything that is soft and cuddly--like the pink Gund bear I bought for her 20 years ago. My mother also perks up whenever she is around children. They seem to fascinate her.

Wendy and Amy live in Baltimore but you can contact them to donate a clean, gently used baby doll--with the emphasis on baby as opposed to toddler dolls.

You can reach Wendy at, wendyparkgeist@yahoo.com or 410-719-8615, or Amy Nelson at 410-747-3778. Or better yet, you could contact them to discuss and start a similar initiative in your own neighborhood.

We are living in difficult times, but this shows there are a lot of wonderful people outthere--add Wendy and Amy to the list.

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Women collect dolls to benefit Alzheimer's patients

Two Catonsville mothers have initiated a volunteer project of collecting used dolls to ease the suffering and bring joy to seniors experiencing Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia.

Wendy Geist and her neighborhood friend, Amy Nelson, say the beneficial effects can be amazing.

"It is most effective with women," said Geist, who had seen her late grandmother enjoy holding a baby doll before the woman died nine years ago.

Geist enlisted Nelson in what both describe as a doll collecting mission after she heard about Florence Cotterell, who died Feb. 1 at age 85 after a long bout with Alzheimer's, Geist knew Cotterell from living next door to her in Catonsville a few years ago, before the elder woman moved to Catonsville's Brightview Senior Living facility.

According to Cotterell's daughter, Bonney Dugan, of Oella, the elder woman loved having a doll so much that she was buried with it.

"It was like a miracle," Dugan said of her mother's initial reaction to the life-like baby she received for Christmas in 2007. "She looked at that baby, stared at it lovingly and kissed it."

From that time forward, Cotterell carried the doll everywhere, including the dining hall at her final home, the St. Elizabeth nursing center next to St. Agnes Hospital.

Instead of playing with the doll, the mother of seven and grandmother of 15 seemed to be caring for it as if it were a live baby of her own, according to family members.
"She held onto it all the time," said Dugan, who took comfort in seeing her mother so apparently happy.

Before, the daughter felt sad and "shook up" when leaving St. Elizabeth's after a visit. "After we gave her the baby doll, I never felt sad again when I left," she said. "So it was very liberating for me."

When Geist found information on the Internet that indicated doll therapy might improve language and behavior skills in Alzheimer's patients, she was sold on the idea of collecting dolls for donation.

She had no trouble enlisting Nelson, who says her daughter, 6, was eager to donate one of her own "babies."

Donating such toys keeps them from winding up too soon in a yard sale, a Salvation Army truck or a landfill, said Geist.

She added that she would rather see her 5-year-old daughter's used doll have a positive impact on a dementia patient.

So far, the two women have collected about a dozen dolls that they will donate as needed to Brightview, in Catonsville, and to another assisted living facility, Manor Care at Chevy Chase.

In recent years, the Catonsville facility has used informal doll therapy with some of the residents, usually women, although some men also seem to enjoy the dolls.

"Our experience is that the dolls bring back happy memories for residents who have dementia," said Judi Beyer, program director at Brightview's Wellspring Village in Catonsville, which cares for Brightview residents with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

"(A doll) gives them a sense of purpose, something that they can relate to from their past, because they treat the baby as if it were real," she said.
Beyer and Wellspring director Mary Smith said they were excited and appreciative about the donations Geist and Nelson are collecting.

Smith noted that having a baby doll can improve the facial expression of a Wellspring resident, indicating a newfound sense of comfort and security.

"Usually, with dementia, they seem lost," she said.

Anyone interested in donating clean, gently used baby dolls, with the emphasis on baby as opposed to toddler dolls, should contact Geist, at wendyparkgeist@yahoo.com or 410-719-8615, or Nelson at 410-747-3778.

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room