6 December

Stuffed Animals And The Elderly: A Loneliness Balm

by Jon Katz
The Loneliness Balm

Ruth and Ken have been at the Mansion for about a month, they are the only couple living there at the moment. They are quite devoted to one another, they are inseparable. I brought a stuffed animal to Ruth today, and asked if she wanted it. Yes, she practically shouted and held it close and gave him a name. She said she would sleep with him at night, he is a stuffed lamb.

At first, I was very reluctant to give the residents stuffed animals, I was concerned it might be infanticizing, even inappropriate to give adults toys for children. I always try to treat the residents with respect.

But I have learned that stuffed animals are a wonderful gift for many people in assisted care. I’ve learned in my work how lonely some of the residents are, how desperate for human affection and connection, how much in need they are of things to love and nurture.

The most valuable and important gifts the residents ever receive are  your letters and messages. They remind them that they are not forgotten, that people care about them and want to reach out to them. I can’t tell you what a difference that has made in their lives.

Stuffed animals cannot replace the dogs and cats they have lost and left behind, the children they rarely see and cannot nurture, the sense of caring for something young and comforting. I see that stuffed animals are a loneliness balm, as long as no one is looking, some of the men love having them as well.

They usually get to sleep in bed, and are held during naps. Stuffed animals are therapeutic, I collect them whenI can and I find they are among the most treasured of gifts. I am convinced these stuffed creatures help with memory issues, the residents never seem to forget their names or lose them.

When Ruth and Ken came to the Mansion, they had no clothes other than the ones they were wearing. They have enough clothes now, and good warm clothes for the winter. It is very touching to see them, their love is fresh and very real.

Ken loves  read and keeps asking me to have someone take photos of me, him and Red. That will happen. You can write to Ken and Ruth c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

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