Is anyone else out there old enough to remember Marvin Gaye’s song about the “Real Thing”? He talks about the picture hanging on the wall but it’s just a picture in a frame. I read your letters when you’re not here, but they don’t move me…
And there really isn’t anything like the real person, the real experience. None of us would want to settle for a photo or a letter or a fake version of something if we could enjoy the real thing!
So why is it OK for people living with dementia to be offered robotic dogs, cats, birds, seals, and baby dolls (the list of robotic creatures seems to grow every year) as substitutes for real experiences…is that what you would want? Or would you want to play with a real dog, have a real baby to rock, and real birds coming to your birdfeeder?
And what IS the reason to lock people living with dementia away from real life, real relationships, real experiences?
I was reminded of the power of the “real thing” when a couple weeks ago a nurse brought in 5 boxer puppies to visit the residents living in a nursing home where I was working. Wow, did you see eyes light up, big smiles and hugs! Two residents who rarely speak were telling the puppies how beautiful they were, and one resident who usually sleeps through most activities was holding and petting the puppy as the puppy blissfully closed his eyes and took a nap!
There was real communication, real joy, real connections between the residents and the puppies. And a reminder that people living with dementia thrive on real experiences, real relationships.
Is there a place for robotic pets and plastic baby dolls in a nursing home? I’ve seen these toys interest a person living with dementia for a short time – it can be an entertaining distraction. But why are these pretend toys offered in place of the real experiences? There is such a difference when people are able to have meaningful interactions with real pets and young children – the give and take, the playfulness, the nurturing that the person living with dementia can offer to pets and children.
Leaders of senior communities often put up objections about having pets and children – “we’re understaffed”, “we don’t have time”, “they could cause injuries to the residents” are some of the objections I hear. While these seem like reasonable fears, I would respond that you’re “over complicating it”. With some commonsense guidelines, introducing a dog or cat to reside in your senior community can be smooth and easy, and give your residents something to look forward to each day. Allowing your staff to bring their children to work or linking up with a nearby preschool or playgroup to have children interacting with your residents can also create a homelike environment.
You can watch a short video here as the staff in a Green House Home discuss their fears about introducing a dog to their community but realize the joy the dog brings to the lives of their residents in the Home greatly outweighs their fears…
I’ve worked with many senior communities to help them introduce real pets and children to their environments. Please let me know if I can assist your Community in offering real experiences with pets and children to your residents.
There Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing….
Anne Ellett, N.P., M.S.N.