Cara, the Playful Puppet

March 29, 2022 2:38 pm Published by
Johanna Coggins is one of our amazing Creative Engagement Therapists who we at BallyCara have the absolute pleasure to work with. She is always looking for new and exciting ways to engage our Residents creatively.

Who is that walking over there? It’s Cara, our playful puppet. Though she is usually seen as a plush orangutan toy, she fills the room with light and joy every time she is brought out by Joh, one of our Creative Engagement Therapists.

Cara is no ordinary puppet; she is a complex 6 year old who came from the forests of Asia. Much like the toys in Toy Story, Cara is quirky and has her own thoughts & feelings. She brings the inner child out in everyone whom she meets. Residents and staff are elated when she is around.

Joh’s qualifications in art therapy and dramatherapy have given her a unique perspective, and the knowledge and understanding of how puppetry can be utilised in Creative Therapies.

Puppetry in therapy is not a new concept, though it has typically been used for children only. The notion that puppetry is beneficial for adults is a fairly recent one, but it has caught on fast. It is particularly beneficial in aged care settings where memory decline is more prevalent especially with common dementia-causing ailments.

The benefits gained from puppetry are clear – enhanced wellbeing and reduced stress (this aligns with our SONA® values here at BallyCara); memory and cognitive function support by enabling Residents to reminisce on their lives through Cara… be it using her as another person, or that she just reminds them of a particular memory.

While reminiscing on the past and the memories can be very beneficial for seniors (particularly those living with dementia), Cara also supports engagement from Residents by focusing on the here and now, the present moment. This is achieved through song, dance, cuddles; even holding Cara’s hand can give seniors that sense of presence in the here and now.

Cara promotes socialisation amongst Residents. It is amazing how much Residents who may not normally be very talkative with others, open up and express themselves when Cara is around. She encourages interactions by demonstrating empathy and showing genuine interest in the stories told. These conversations between Residents and staff are so uplifting for all to see; Residents feel like they have been seen, heard, and are of value having imparted their wisdom and shared stories with others.

Joh watches for and responds to cues by Residents when she can make a connection either herself, or through Cara. Sometimes one on one interaction is the best way to encourage Residents to open up and connect with Cara. In these situations, Residents may be more comfortable to self-express feelings, thoughts and/or reminisce on their stories about pets, family, friends, and even travel stories that have included street puppetry.

Orangutans by nature are curious; Cara is also playful and creative. When Joh brings her into the dining room and other common areas of Residential Care, everyone turns their attention to Cara. The social interaction is increased ten-fold by stimulating the conversations amongst Residents and staff. It’s funny, Cara has this way of getting people to chat, she just has that calming and nurturing sense of self that makes people want to share. During these times it’s more often than not that Residents open up about their own life experiences. This allows greater connection amongst Residents and staff as common ground can be established. This in turn supports the memory and cognitive function of our Residents.

Though it is also very important to keep Residents grounded in the here and now. Cara is one clever girl because she comes up with all sorts of approaches to bring the Residents into the present moment. She employs her amazing dance moves and big heart to cause Residents to crack a smile or even a chuckle.

Music can stimulate the soul… Cara becomes alive when a beat starts. She has a particular fondness for the music of the 1940’s and 1950’s. She may dance along to music from other eras, but when this music is played this is where she really tears up the dancefloor. Joh accommodates for this request and the Residents definitely don’t seem to mind. In fact, several of them will sing along to the songs – for many this is the music of their childhood. Cara craves affection and loves to perform… especially by having a dance party! Residents move along to the music as Cara dances amongst them. It is amazing to see the ones who don’t often move being encouraged to sway to the music. They really do get so much enjoyment out of this shared experience of witnessing Cara in action movin’ and groovin’.

How great is Cara! Our staff are amazed to see just how much of a difference she makes in the Residents’ lives. And Joh can attest to witnessing the beneficial effects of puppetry as a therapy tool. She has seen the Residents’ wellbeing enhanced and their overall stress reduced. There are so many ways that puppetry can be utilised for engagement and therapy, and it seems Joh has found the perfect partner in Cara the playful Orangutan.

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This post was written by Emily Spagnolo

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