Stuffed animals are more than just child's play
Volunteers Bernice and Joe Davids had more fun than a barrel monkeys late last month, as they wrapped adorable plush gifts for Jewish Pavilion seniors earmarked for the coming Chanukah season. While many of us think of plush animals as toys intended for children, an increasing number of studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that stuffed animals can be effective comfort objects for people of all ages, and seniors in particular. A recent AARP article suggested that plush animals offer seniors similar benefits to therapy pets.
Nancy Ludin, Jewish Pavilion executive director, frequently requests donations of plush toys from Pavilion volunteers. She noted, "Plush toys are a favorite gift for the residents we serve in nursing homes and memory care. When a resident receives the gift of a stuffed animal, they usually greet it like an old, but familiar, friend. This particular gift almost always elicits a smile, and many recipients snuggle with their plush toys or keep them as companions in the baskets of their walkers."
Stroke patient Miriam Ann was brought a plush dog by a Pavilion volunteer this past spring. The retired reading specialist welcomed her new gift with a hug and a squeeze, and ran her fingers through its plush fur. She shared that the toy dog brought back fond memories of her Lhasa Apso, Hank, who was staying with her son while she recovered. For the next several weeks the plush dog slept by Miriam's side, and "Hank Junior" was one of the few things she took home with her when she left the rehab center following her recovery.
Jewish Pavilion Program Director Julie Levitt recounted the story of a resident in a local memory care facility who had become attached to a stuffed bear she had received at Chanukah from a Pavilion volunteer. Though the resident was non-communicative, she appeared to receive comfort from her stuffed toy, which she held in her arms for most of her waking hours. When the bear went missing, the resident became distraught over the loss of her companion. Fortunately, the Pavilion offices had one last bear left over from the holidays, and a Pavilion volunteer rushed over an extra bear, which was welcomed with open arms by the smiling resident.
Jewish Pavilion Senior Specialist Emily Newman frequently gives stuffed toys to the residents she serves. The licensed social worker said, "Stuffed toys don't infantilize our seniors or encourage them to be childish. Rather, they are an object of comfort that provide a soft touch in more ways than one. They can fulfill a tactile as well as an emotional need, and may bring back memories of a favorite toy or a beloved pet." Newman shared that stuffed toys may appeal to all kinds of elderly residents, and not just those in memory care. She stated, "There's a reason they sell so many stuffed animals in hospital gift shops for patients of all ages. They can be adorable companions, and most are small enough to accompany a senior wherever they may go."
Ludin expressed appreciation for the 48 plush monkeys that were recently donated, and noted that seniors enjoy plush gifts all year round, and not just during the Chanukah season. To make donations go further, Ludin encourages volunteers to keep an eye out for post-holiday sales. She stated, "We greatly appreciate when our volunteers pick up these gifts on behalf of our seniors, and welcome them throughout the calendar year. There's still time to donate a new plush toy for Chanukah that will warm the heart of an elder-care resident. To make a donation or for more information, please contact http://www.jewishpavilion.org or call 407-678-9363."