By Cindy Zomar, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Kathy Faddoul, a nursing instructor in the Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School’s Health Technologies program, takes her juniors to their clinical practice at Northborough’s Coleman House, and noticed how a lifelike doll could ease anxiety for some of the residents.
“It helped them be less anxious,” she explained. “They seemed so happy nurturing dolls, and there just never seemed to be enough to go around. After doing some research, we began ‘Dolls for Dementia’ and this is our third year. We learned that dolls aren’t for everyone, and we never just hand one to a resident. We put it down beside them while we engage them in conversation. Eventually they might touch the doll, and then usually pick it up and cuddle it. It is so heartwarming to see the happiness the dolls bring. One resident cuddled three dolls, telling us how much she loved them, and they loved her.”
Faddoul’s students were quick to agree.
“They might miss their grandchildren and think they are babysitting for the day,” surmised Gianna Meninno.
According to the executive office of Elder Affairs, in Massachusetts the 65 and older population is predicted to grow to 21 percent in 2030, leading to a rise in cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Dementia is a collection of symptoms, such as forgetfulness, impaired judgment, loss of reasoning, and communication struggles. Alzheimer’s is a terminal disease with no known cure or diagnosis, and the most common type of dementia. There are 5.8 million people suffering from Alzheimer’s worldwide. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in this country, yet the statistics of death due to heart disease have decreased by nine percent between the years 2000 and 2017, while in the same period, deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s have risen by 145 percent.
“Research has focused on plaques and tangles, but we need more research on things like blood sugar and how diet and lifestyle may factor in to a person’s likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s,” explained Faddoul. “And we all need to be more forgiving to those with memory issues.”
She noted that Marlborough, Hudson and Northborough are dementia-friendly towns, introducing an education program available for public places like restaurants and banks to help employees develop strategies to deal with their memory-impaired clients.
“My juniors have visited the other 16 technical programs here to teach them how to react with kindness, knowing that many of them will deal with the public as part of their career. We had an event at Assabet called ‘Meet Me at the Movies’ where we showed movie clips from classics and then had discussions and even some dancing,” Faddoul noted. “Then lunch was served in our Epicurean restaurant…providing a menu with fewer choices with the wait staff trained to give guests extra time to respond and interacting with plenty of kindness. It was great! The students had learned concrete strategies to increase awareness and decrease the stigma of Alzheimer’s.”
Dolls will be collected throughout the remainder of the school year and can be dropped off at the school’s front office at 215 Fitchburg St., Marlborough. Faddoul is also organizing a team for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in September at Quinsigamond Community College. For more information on how to get involved or donate, contact Faddoul at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-485-9430, ext. 2876.