- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 20, 2009

CATONSVILLE, Md. (AP) | Wendy Geist and Amy Nelson are using dolls to connect elderly women with something that they can love and care for, something that rekindles affection in their hearts.

The two women give away used dolls at the Summit Park Health and Rehabilitation Center in Catonsville, where many women live with dementia.

“They don’t have anyone to hug or hold,” Miss Geist said. “No one’s hugging them anymore.”

Ethel Legrand, 88, received one of the dolls in November, saying “Ooh, brother, I had a whole lot of dolls.”

Miss Geist’s interest in such a project began as a little girl when she and her mother visited nursing homes.

Her grandmother suffered dementia 10 years ago, which also provided motivation for her to serve the elderly.

A year ago, she and Miss Nelson started asking friends and others through e-mail for slightly worn but still usable dolls with lifelike features. They keep the dolls in their homes and hand them out themselves, and enlist elementary school students to help give out the dolls at retirement homes and other places.

Miss Geist’s mother, Nancy Park, gave her mother a doll when the woman, in her mid-80s, was recovering at Good Samaritan Hospital from hip surgery and suffering from dementia.

“She loved baby dolls when she was little,” Miss Park said.

There isn’t proof that giving dolls to dementia patients helps their treatment progress, but local officials at health care facilities and some studies suggest the approach can help those afflicted by dementia.

In Chevy Chase, Medina Lundy is the activities director at Manor Care, and she said Miss Nelson dropped off several dolls earlier this year. She said some patients see the dolls as infants and a doll has helped one patient cry less.

“I can’t tell if she thinks it’s a real baby or not,” Miss Lundy said. “I think it’s just a piece of security.”

Frederick Villas’ activity director Lori Manalansan said patients at the Catonsville facility are happier when they have dolls.

“It calms a lot of them down,” Miss Manalansan said.

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