Comfort Objects Can Help Console Dementia Patients

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When my mother was very small, her best friend was Edward Bear. Apparently she talked to him constantly.

By the time I came along, the old bear was pretty battered. His eyes were long gone, and his hind paws were unstuffed and unravelling.

For most of my childhood, he lived in the toy box with a moth-eaten golliwog, an inane knitted monkey and a pile of plastic dolls.

Occasionally my siblings and I threw building blocks on top of Mum’s bear, but mostly we ignored him.

Miraculously, Edward Bear survived.

Several years ago, when our elderly parents had moved to rest homes, we began the daunting task of sorting out the house and readying it for sale. Someone found Edward Bear snoozing at the back of a wardrobe. We brought him up north, where he lived quietly for a couple of years on a shelf at my sister’s house.

Several months ago, Mum spied Edward Bear and asked to take him to the rest home with her.

I’ve never heard Mum talking to him, but she tells me she does. All the time.

According to Mum, Edward Bear doesn't say much, but he knows how to listen. He likes physical contact too—apparently a kiss on the nose is just the thing.

“Have you said hello to Edward Bear?” asks Mum. So I kiss him.

“He doesn’t like it when people ignore him,” says Mum. “When they’re gone, he growls.”

Mum reckons that getting Edward Bear back is the best thing that’s happened since she moved out of her home.

Naturally, this week’s move back to her previous rest home was quite an event. “Does he know what’s happening?” I asked in the days leading up to it.

“Of course,” said Mum. “He’s feeling quite unsettled.”

On the day of the move, we worked all morning shifting Mum’s stuff.

We packed up and drove to the new rest home. Then we unpacked and tested the new bed.

We talked about where to hang her pictures, and then we opened the last box.

There was Edward Bear, lying on top of a nest of scarves. He was wearing a slightly imperious expression.

Where to put him? Mum looked around for a while, then sat him gently on the corner of the tallboy. “I like this room,” she said. “It has a very nice outlook.”

Then she looked at Edward Bear. “I think he approves.”

A comfort object, transitional object, or security blanket is an item used to provide psychological comfort, especially in unusual or unique situations, or at bedtime for small children. Among toddlers, comfort objects may take the form of a blanket, a stuffed animal, or a favorite toy.

Sarah Jane is a freelance writer/researcher and part-time caregiver for her mother Eleanor* who has dementia and lives at a rest home nearby. Sarah and her mother spend Saturdays enjoying each other’s company, pottering about and having the occasional adventure. Sarah lives in New Zealand where she writes and speaks about dementia-related issues.

Saturdays with Mum

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