Furry friends provide comfort to patients

Patient with toy cat. Image shows elderly person's hands cuddling a grey tabby toy cat. The patient is in a hospital bed.

Published on 21 May 2021

Furry friends with a difference are helping patients at the William Harvey Hospital.

Therapeutic soft animals provided by the Friends of the hospital and members of the public are being used by the dementia team to help reassure, distract and calm patients who are living with dementia.

The fluffy animals remind people of past pets, or ones they have at home, and can transform a patient’s mood. Charity Dementia UK says they can be considered as a type of therapy, and can help people connect with the outside world.

Tina Olver, ward sister on Cambridge K ward, said there were many examples where the cuddly toys had made a huge difference to someone’s experience in hospital.

She said: “I don’t think the people who buy the cats and dogs for the wards always realise how much good can come from them.

“They can help us to reach someone who is not engaging with their care, they can help motivate a patient to get out of bed, and they can assist them in continuing with their recovery when they go home.”

The animals come in a range of different colours, and the team try to match them as closely as possible with a patient’s real-life pet.

Joy McCue, the Trust’s lead dementia nurse, said: “It brings a smile to their face, and is a distraction from everything that is going on in the ward.

“It’s something familiar they can focus on, and it is wonderful to see the impact it has on people.”

One woman decided to call her cat Timmy, and said she was going to tell it all her secrets. Another, who had been very distressed and pulling at her dressings, seemed to be looking for something. Her family revealed to staff she had a black and white cat, so the team found her a toy that looked similar.

Tina said: “She knew immediately it wasn’t her cat, because the markings were not the same, but I told her it was my cat and asked her to look after it for me.

“She asked for a cup of milk every morning to feed him, and I told her she had to make sure she got up and had breakfast so she could look after him – she carried on doing that when she got home and would put the cat on the floor next to her cat when she fed him.”

The Friends also provide baby dolls for patients, which can also help calm patients.

Manager Jill Barringer said: “There will be a story behind every dog, cat, and doll provided by our wonderful supporters. It’s so lovely to hear that these small items help so much.

“They can be purchased from our wishlist and each stays with the patient even after they have gone home, helping to provide comfort on and beyond the ward.”

To buy a cat, dog or doll, visit https://www.amazon.co.uk/hz/wishlist/ls/I2GVHAQN5FPB