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N.B. woman’s hand-crafted ‘cuddle dolls’ comfort seniors with dementia

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WATCH ABOVE: A Miramichi woman has found a way to bring comfort and support to people with dementia through her specially made cuddle dolls. Global’s Shelley Steeves reports – Sep 22, 2016

A Miramichi, New Brunswick woman has found a way to bring comfort to seniors living with dementia — specially made “cuddle dolls.”

For the past two years, Beth McCormack has been hand crafting realistic looking infant dolls for nursing homes across Canada in hopes of comforting seniors suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s.

“I just know the struggles and they are real. My mom and dad both had dementia,” McCormack told Global News.

McCormack made her first cuddle doll as a gift to her mother, hoping it would help her as dementia slowly robbed her of the ability to connect with others.

“Her nature was to nurture, that is just who she was — she loved babies, she loved children, and I think it just brought something back to her, it just connected with her,” said McCormack.

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She said that experience gave birth to a business idea, leading her to start making and delivering the dolls to nursing homes in New Brunswick. Her business has grown in recent months, and she’s now selling dolls to homes in Newfoundland and Alberta.

Shelley Shillington from the Alzheimer’s Society of New Brunswick says the new therapy program is very effective.

“We see the residents become suddenly less agitated, not as anxious, it’s giving them purpose and their brain actually feels that sense of comfort,” Shillington said.

She added that the dolls are also helping with their efforts to reduce anti-psychotic medication use among their residents with dementia.

READ MORE: 15 New Brunswick nursing homes join program to cut seniors’ antipsychotic drug use

Mary Lynn Steele is the recreation manager at the Loch Lomond Villa in Saint John, where two cuddle dolls are now being used as a trial. She says the goal of a cuddle doll program is not to fool residents into thinking they are holding real babies, instead it’s about offering residents comfort.

“By putting the baby in their arms and things, you can see the change in their eyes and basically just happiness and being able to rekindle old memories and what having a baby again is like for them,” Steele said.

McCormack puts about 30 hours of work into each doll so that the babies appear as life-like as possible. Each doll sells for about $250.

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“There is not a lot of money to be made when you look at the hours you put in,” McCormack admits, but for her the hours spent are well worth it.

Her workshop, or nursery as she likes to call it, is called A Bushel and a Peck — named after the song her mother used to sing to her grandchildren while she was still well enough to recognize them.

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