Puppets provide smiles and stimulation for long-term care residents

Janice Greenberg, aka the Puppet Lady, engages with a resident at Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare during the Puppet Hour.
Janice Greenberg, aka the Puppet Lady, engages with a resident at Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare during the Puppet Hour.

Meet the Puppet Lady! Wearing a red-and-white chicken hat and clutching a bright yellow duck puppet on her left hand, Janice Greenberg prances around the nursing station at Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare to the sounds of Mambo Italiano. Around her, residents sit and watch entranced, some clapping and others rising from their wheelchairs to dance.

Janice Greenberg

When Ms. Greenberg approaches them with her menagerie of props, their faces light up.

“Every session is a journey,” Ms. Greenberg explains. “We never know where we’re going to go.”

The twice-weekly Puppet Hour at Jewish Eldercare was launched last November by Josie Di Benedetto, Coordinator of Therapeutic Leisure and Recreology for SAPA, in partnership with Ms. Greenberg, an external consultant. The sessions are an entertaining hour of music and stimulation with a colourful cast of characters like Pete the Cop, Gefilte Fish, Bubbe the Baker and Zayde the Accountant.

The sessions are more than child’s play, Ms. Di Benedetto explains. Studies show that puppetry can help lower depression and loneliness among older adults, as well as encouraging self-expression in those experiencing social and cognitive decline.

Janice Greenberg

“I wanted to create a program using props such as puppets and head costumes to produce a stimulating visual experience,” Ms. Di Benedetto says. “It allows residents the freedom to interact and enjoy the sensory stimulation.”

The program provides opportunities for residents to share moments of laughter and belonging, Ms. Di Benedetto adds. “They’re free to engage their imaginations.”

There are plans to expand Puppet Hour to other long-term care centres of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.