Introducing a plush pet to a loved one

Those living with Dementia, Autism or with other mental health issues are often restless and fidgety. What better, drug free, way to calm and comfort them than offering them a stuffed animal to hold, stroke, cuddle or carry around? However, anything new can cause a sufferers’ anxiety levels to soar, and it is therefore very important that a new furry friend is introduced slowly and gently.

“Animals, live or stuffed, can aid therapy for both children and adults by providing a way to experience and express emotions, a feeling of unconditional support, and grounding”.

It is essential that the introduction of stuffed animal therapy is done in a controlled atmosphere allowing patients to take responsibility – thus bringing new things to their lives in a positive manner.

It’s well known that dolls can deeply touch sufferers. However, men typically, and some women, don’t want to hold a doll, so a realistic cuddly dog or cat soft toy could be the answer.


Timing is everything and choosing to make the introductions late in the day or during another stimulating activity is probably not the best idea. There is no time limit, let the person discover the stuffed animal at their own pace.


Pick a space that is familiar and free of perplexing distractions – like conversations going on in the background.  You could place it in on a table (perhaps not in their personal space, like a bedroom) before they enter the room. Watch to see how, and if, they respond.

Just watch

Questions can be a source of irritation so it may be best to not keep asking, “Do you like it?” or commenting on the features or offering suggestions. Let your loved one interact with their new cuddly friend on their own terms.

Give it a try

Some people might hesitate to give a stuffed animal to their loved one because they worry that it could be demeaning. However, according to Marie Marley, author of the book Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s, and Joy, “we have to interact with them in their world, not try to drag them into ours.”