Baby dolls bring joy to residents at Parker Jewish Institute’s Memory Care Unit

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Some of the baby dolls received by residents at Parker Jewish Institute’s Memory Care Unit. Photo credit: Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care and Rehabilitation.

A caring daughter’s love is bringing comfort and joy to her mom and fellow residents at Parker Jewish Institute. The story began when Cassandra Ottaviano, 34, of Bellmore, NY, visited her mother “Marge” (Margaret) Karris in early February 2019. Marge, at 68 years old, was admitted to Parker in August 2018 with a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Cassandra had been in touch with Parker’s Caregiver Support Initiative, while her mother lived alone with home care in a Suffolk apartment. Marge participated in their Caregiver Respite Day Program for a short while. But at some point, Marge needed placement. Cassandra was told about options, given emotional support, counseling and suggestions about long term care, and ultimately support through the transition of placing her mother.

Fast forward. During her February visit, Cassandra had her 3-year old Mathew give a baby doll to Marge. But after returning from lunch, Marge’s doll was gone, and another resident was found cradling the doll, like it was her own baby. “I didn’t have the heart to take that doll away and give it back to my Mom,” Cassandra said. That’s when she got the idea to collect dolls for residents on Parker’s 8th floor Memory Care Unit.

Cassandra’s brother Peter helped with the fundraising drive. She posted an appeal on her Facebook page, on the Long Island Preschool and Elementary Moms Group page, and a few Bellmore Civic pages. Cassandra called it her Dolls for Alzheimer’s Valentine’s Day Fundraiser. “It would mean so much if you could show your support and consider donating a new doll to residents like my Mom, who have Alzheimer’s. There are dozens of residents who could benefit from your generosity,” her appeal stated. She also asked fellow parishioners from Centerpoint Church of Massapequa to donate. As a result, nearly 50 dolls soon arrived at her Bellmore home!

When Cassandra visited Parker on February 23, 2019, she brought her baby dolls and with staff approval, asked several residents if they’d like one. “Their reactions brought tears of joy to my eyes,” Cassandra said. “Several residents began cradling the life-sized dolls, talking to them and making cooing sounds, as if they were their own babies. We saw a lot of smiles that day,” she added.

“We commend efforts like Cassandra’s. Therapy dolls are a helpful, non-pharmaceutical way to calm and soothe seniors with Alzheimer’s and other dementias,” according to Michael N. Rosenblut, Parker’s President and CEO. “Gifting a soft, life-sized baby doll to some residents in our Memory Care Unit, can bring them back to a time in their lives when they had a sense of purpose, joy and comfort,” he added.   Evidence drawn from baby doll therapy research suggests it can help some people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

After giving out dolls at Parker, Cassandra, husband Phil and her brother Peter, distributed the rest at local nursing homes. They plan another drive for Mother’s Day in the spring. If you’d like to donate, they need new and ethnically diverse dolls. Please contact her ASAP at: Cassandra.Karris@gmail.com.

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