WORTHINGTON — Three women with passions for helping others recently joined forces for a unique mission aimed at bringing comfort and calmness to dementia and Alzheimer’s patients in the form of lifelike baby dolls or pets.

Dubbed “Memory Companions,” the project is spearheaded by Pat Grimmius, Worthington, who successfully recruited Kathy Gallagher and Susanne Murphy to the cause.

“Although no one in my immediate family has yet had dementia or Alzheimer’s, I know how devastating it is and I can’t imagine going through it, either as a patient or caregiver,” said Grimmius.

A bookkeeper throughout decades of employment, Grimmius retired about 18 months ago after logging 17 years at her last workplace, Bedford Technology, and immediately expanded her volunteer efforts.

“I love doing service projects,” said Grimmius, noting she’s applied herself via the Night Light Circle at First United Methodist Church and the Nobles County Community Christmas Baskets, among other entities.

“At Christmastime, our church circle gets a list from the staff at Crossroads Care Center of residents who don’t have family and visitors, so we buy gifts for them — useful things like lotions, calendars and socks,” Grimmius listed.

Not long ago, a Facebook post jumped out at her.

“There were ladies doing this in a different state and I thought, ‘Oh, what a neat thing that is,’ so I sent them a message — but I never heard back,” related Grimmius.

Undaunted, Grimmius googled “baby dolls for dementia” and unearthed an abundance of information.

But when Grimmius learned the recommended baby dolls and pets that serve to calm, comfort and renew nurturing feelings among many dementia patients cost $40 to $140 apiece, she used the “phone a friend” lifeline.

Friends indeed

Although Murphy was initially reluctant to sign on due to the many ways in which she already extends herself (including serving on the board of the Sunset Hospice Cottage), her resistance didn’t last long.

“When Pat got in touch, I didn’t think I needed one more committee, but I told her I would listen,” said Murphy.

“Right away, I thought, ‘This is so me, this is calling me,’ and I knew I wanted to be involved.”

Murphy’s mother suffers from Alzheimer’s and lives in an Illinois care center. Previously, Murphy had gifted her mother a black and white stuffed cat that looked like one her former pets, Figaro.

“She named the cat ‘Figgy’ right away, and she loves petting it,” said Murphy.

“And the baby dolls are similar; people love to cuddle and smooch them, and for some, the baby doll gives them a sense of purpose,” Murphy continued.

“I know Figgy comforts my mom because she has an innate personality for nurturing and caring, and giving her that cat seemed to fulfill that need in her.”

Gallagher lost her husband, Norm, to Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, so she, too, understood how the project could serve others.

“Norm may not have been one who would have liked either the pets or the baby dolls, but I’ve seen other people respond to and benefit from them,” said Gallagher.

“Once you’ve been through that [dementia caregiving], there’s an empathy that grows, and you never know when you might be part of that journey again.”

Professional validation

Anita Miller, the social services designee and activities director at Crossroads Care Center, said up to 35 of her current patients could benefit from the baby dolls and pets Grimmius and her team propose to purchase for them.

“We do have some baby dolls and stuffed animals here, and they make a positive difference,” said Miller, noting that Crossroads has a locked memory care unit with 20 beds and a long-term mixed population unit with 30 beds.

“There’s a long-term male memory care patient who loves a specific baby doll that has a smile, and he treats it like it’s his baby,” Miller continued.

“Other residents like to fold baby clothes, or change the clothes on the baby dolls, so I can really support this effort.”

Miller, a 20-year Crossroads employee who is personally dedicated to elder care, became a Certified Nursing Assistant at 16 after her own grandmother, who had dementia, fell down basement stairs while trying to put away groceries and died a short time later.

“I have a big passion for people with dementia,” said Miller. “I like to try to find different interventions for them that work, and to make moments of joy.”

Plus, November is National Alzeimer’s Disease Awareness Month so it’s the perfect time for Memory Companions to launch, Miller asserted.

Acting for Alzheimer’s

Grimmius, Murphy and Gallagher are simply asking for support in the form of cash donations so they may purchase enough baby dolls and pets to supply the need at Crossroads Care Center and other area memory care units. (The Sunset Hospice Cottage is directly purchasing two for its patients, Grimmius pointed out.)

“I’d love to see one available for every resident who would like one because they’re really soothing to cuddle and can help some people fall asleep,” said Grimmius.

“The cool part is that, due to the calming effects of these babies, medical professionals can actually prescribe fewer psychotic drugs for certain patients who otherwise become anxious.”

Added Murphy, “We want to bring smiles to people’s hearts — that’s simply it.

“And as many donations as we receive, we will find recipients for the baby dolls and pets.”

Said Grimmius, “We’ll keep this going until we can meet the need — hopefully that will be soon — but it will be ongoing until we can bring joy to everybody that we can.”

Donations for Memory Companions may be sent to: First United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 668, Worthington 56187. Checks should be made payable to First United Methodist Church with “Memory Companions” written on the memo line. Donations of baby clothes (sizes 0 to 3 months), baby blankets and even diapers are also welcomed; they may be dropped off at the First United Methodist Church office, 408 11th Ave., Worthington. For questions regarding the project, contact Pat Grimmius (607-360-1400 or pagrimmius@gmail.com), Susanne Murphy (507-360-6699 or zanner75@gmail.com) or Kathy Gallagher (507-360-2232 or kagallagher@vastbb.net).