Doll therapy calmed Sarah Artis’ grandmother when she developed Alzheimer’s disease, so the Winter Garden woman has started collecting dolls for area patients.
Georgina Parris called Winter Garden home for 30 years until Alzheimer’s disease robbed her of her independence and her mind. When she could no longer live alone, family members in Nebraska accepted the responsibility of looking after her, so she moved to the Midwest in 2008. When Gigi, as she was called, became stressed and agitated, her family tried to find something that would calm her, and they discovered doll therapy.
A simple $10 baby doll gave Gigi something to love and care for — and it brought a positive change in her behavior.
“The doll brought her true happiness during the most difficult time of her life,” said Gigi’s granddaughter, Sarah Artis, a Winter Garden resident. “She was always the best caretaker — very nurturing to all of us — and was the matriarch of our family. She held and loved this baby doll until the very end.”
Artis is paying tribute to this woman, who would have turned 95 this month, by collecting baby dolls and small blankets and donating them to the Alzheimer’s unit of a local nursing home.
The collection drive is called Gigi’s Hope Project – Bringing Hope & Happiness to Alzheimer’s Patients. Gigi, who raised Artis as her own, died in January after a long battle with the disease. After seeing the effects the doll therapy had on her grandmother, Artis felt compelled to bring that same joy to others in West Orange County, and she and her children are collecting dolls through March 14.
“My grandmother, Gigi, gravitated towards the baby doll right away,” Artis said. “She was much calmer and less aggressive. It also served as a distraction when she would become agitated or frustrated, turning the negative emotions into hugs, smiles and even laughter. She held it, loved it, fed it and took care of it as if it were a real baby. There were times she'd even ask for a babysitter for it because she needed a break, so we'd get her one.”
The local doll drive was shared on Facebook, Artis said, and she began receiving heartfelt stories from people whose loved ones had Alzheimer’s and benefited from the special therapy. So she knew this was an important project.
Artis is looking for new, soft, life-like baby dolls and new or gently used baby blankets for the patients to swaddle the babies. Monetary donations can also be made to [email protected] through PayPal so she can purchase $10 dolls.
“My grandmother meant the world to me; she was my heartbeat,” Artis said. “Words cannot express just how so very special she was (and still is) to me.”
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