Currently, there are 47.5 million people worldwide living with dementia. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, currently has no cure although there are treatments for symptoms and lifestyle approaches to promote brain health. Instead of focusing on the quest for a cure, we would like to shine light on ways to improve quality of life and enjoy the present moment.
As dementia progresses, there may be changes in communication such as forgetting words, inventing new words, repeating familiar words/phrases and speaking less often. One creative approach to dementia care involves using puppets to encourage communication and social skills. Below, we highlight how puppets can prove beneficial to individuals with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia:
- Boost self-esteem. Puppets can help bring qualities out of people that are not typically there. For example, a shy person may develop a personality for his or her puppet that is loud, confident and extravagant, like a movie star. He or she may announce that the puppet is going to get dressed up in a glamorous gown and apply lipstick before heading to an awards ceremony; this demonstrates how they care about and are proud of their puppets’ confidence in their appearance.
- Stimulate memories. People with Alzheimer’s or dementia may use puppets to act out a variety of capacities: he or she may use his or her imagination to create a puppet with an alternate personality or the puppet may be an extension of his or herself. In either situation, the puppet may have qualities that reflect on the person’s experience or past memories. A woman who once was an opera singer, for example, may start singing opera tunes through her puppet.
- Strengthen bonds. Communication may be easier between loved ones when using puppets. Perhaps Mom or Dad cannot remember or talk about extended family members. Instead, Dad’s puppet, who is an architect, can talk to his daughter’s puppet, a city mayor, about building a skyscraper. By opening the floor for a creative variety of discussions, adult children are able to bond with their parents in a new light. Often, they are able to recognize their parents’ love through the bonds they create between their puppets.
- Convey emotion. A person suffering from Alzheimer’s can use his or her puppet to communicate beyond words. He or she can use their puppet to interact with others’ puppets to show positive engagement. Alternatively, puppets can help an individual convey distress or frustration that he or she did not feel comfortable expressing personally.
- Give life purpose. Puppetry encourages people to be present in the moment in order to animate the puppet and give it life. By stimulating creativity, social engagement and an emotional connection, the puppet can help bring a sense of purpose to the person with Alzheimer’s, boosting overall mood and enhancing quality of life.
Every individual is unique and the progression of Alzheimer’s or other dementias may affect people in different ways. A puppet can be as unique as the person animating it, although it may not be a successful care option for everyone. We encourage you to try this approach with your loved one to see if it is beneficial for him or her. You can also try principles of improvisational theater when providing care for a person with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, which we describe in our blog, “Creative Approaches to Dementia Care: Using Improv Theater”.
Home Care Assistance, a premier provider of high-quality home care, provides professionally-trained and compassionate caregivers who can help those with advanced Alzheimer’s and dementia care needs. For more information, visit www.HomeCareAssistance.com/Alzheimers or learn about our Cognitive Therapeutics Method™, an in-home activities program to promote brain health, at www.HomeCareAssistance.com/Cognitive-Therapeutics-Method.