By Sophie Norris
The daughter of a dementia sufferer has revealed heart-breaking footage of her mum lovingly singing to a doll that she believes is her own grandchild.
Jessie Ball, 94, moved into a Birmingham residential home in June after her illness began to quickly take hold, causing her to cook chips in washing-up liquid and wander around the garden in the dead of night.
Her daughter, Sandra, 57, claims it broke her and her siblings’ hearts each time they visited as she rarely smiled and would ask when she could leave.
However this quickly changed when they bought Jessie a doll from a charity shop, which she now continually mothers and talks to like a real newborn in the belief that it is Sandra’s own daughter.
Hairdresser Sandra, from Birmingham, said: “My mum will look into the doll’s face and say to me ‘isn’t she lovely? Look at her smile.’ Then mum will smile too – she rarely smiles at anyone else.
“I think, to me, the doll has kept my mum going longer. The other ladies just walk around and try to get out of the door.
“I’d seen babies being used [with dementia patients] before but hadn’t thought about it with my mum until Carol [Jackson, 65, Sandra’s sister] bought her one.
“As soon as my sister handed her the doll, she took to it straight away. Mum named it Gizzy, which is also her Shih Tzu, Gizmo’s, nickname. The dog stays at home with my brother now but we’ll have to rehome him soon.
“Every time we go in to see her the baby is always by her side. When I visited last night, she was cuddling it in her arms.
“She’s gone really downhill in the last few months and she can’t walk at all, but the baby is always with her.
“She’ll feed it and if she’s eating something then the baby will have to eat too.
“She doesn’t change the baby’s nappy or clothe it herself though, because she kept pulling its arm out of the socket each time. When she’s not looking, we’ll try and shove it back in and most of the time she doesn’t notice.
“She’ll sometimes sing to the baby. When I posted the video online I had other people coming to me saying ‘my mum used to sing that song to me.'”
Since being diagnosed with dementia five years ago, Jessie’s family have witnessed her health deteriorating.
Sandra claims the baby has helped to keep her calm during a time that caused so much stress for herself and her siblings.
While Jessie would try to leave the home with her daughters initially, she has now settled in and is quite happy to tend to her doll.
Sandra said: “When my mum turned 90 and was finding things physically difficult, I’d say ‘well at least you’ve got your marbles, mum’ but then she started to deteriorate.
“She was first diagnosed with dementia about five years ago but around two years ago, it started to come on really, really quickly. It just left us devastated that this could happen to our mum.
“She started doing the odd thing like going into the garden in the middle of the night to move around the garden furniture or she’d try to cook her chips in washing-up liquid. She’d turn the fridge-freezer off and different things like that.
“It got to the point where my sister was going down there seven days a week and mum had carers too. She’d be getting up in the night and playing up so in the end we had no choice but to put her in a home.
“Sometimes she’ll say ‘when are we leaving? I don’t like driving home in the dark’ but she’s never driven in her life.
“She hates the dark and hated being on her own at home at night. I honestly don’t know how she found the strength, but she started putting the ottoman by the door to keep people out.
“When she first moved into her current place, she was really playing up and just wanted to go home.
“When we were leaving, she’d say ‘come on then, we’d better be getting going’ but she doesn’t do that now – she’s quite happy as long as Gizzy is by her side.
“We can go home now in the comfort that she is safe and she’s got Gizzy. The staff at the home have been absolutely wonderful with her. She’s really calm now.”
Although Jessie’s dementia has now advanced to the point she doesn’t remember Sandra and Carol as her daughters, she still knows they are family and enjoys talking to them about her doll.
Sandra believes that the doll also helps to relax the other residents too, many of whom also have dementia.
The doll has helped Jessie to focus on her own passion, caring for others, and stopped her from being confused.
Sandra said: “The fact my mum has so many children and grandchildren means that she never stopped caring right up to when she became too ill.
“Even now when we go to see her she’ll ask ‘do you want a cup of tea?’ She’ll never stop caring and looking after the doll is part of that for her.
“I’ve had other residents come up to me saying ‘is that your baby? Your mum said she’s looking after her for you’.
“Once or twice I’ve put the baby down on the floor and she’s shouted at me. She really panics.
“All the residents who are of sound mind and the staff will ask her ‘how’s the baby?’
“Some of the other dementia patients will be a bit spiteful but they don’t mean it. They’ll say ‘that’s not a baby, it’s a doll’.
“The residents don’t have much correspondence with each other because many of them don’t talk sense. I’ll chat away to them but you can’t really understand what they are saying.
“Mum doesn’t really know us as her children but she always knows we’re family. I think she thinks I’m one of the cousins.
“She’ll ask us ‘have you seen my mum, she hasn’t been to visit me?’
“There’s a few other residents in the home that like to take her doll when she’s not looking. They get a lot of comfort from holding the baby.”
After posting the videos of her mum with the doll online, Sandra admits she had mixed responses.
She believes that while it shows the harsh reality, it could also help inspire others to donate dolls to their local dementia homes or use them with their own families.
Sandra claims that the dementia has hit her family very hard, but claims it is the little things like seeing her mum smile at the doll that make her smile too.
Sandra said: “People have said to me ‘fancy videoing your mum in that state and putting it on Facebook’ but it’s something I always look over and it makes me smile.
“Those people don’t really understand what it’s like to have a relative with dementia. They probably haven’t known anyone who’s had the disease.
“I’ve also had many messages from other carers saying it moved them. I decided to share it with the world because my friend said it’s so sad yet so beautiful.
“I’ve had messages from the Philippines, America and Australia saying how wonderful it is.
“People have said ‘my mum’s got dementia, I’m going to try this’.
“I think the dementia has been harder for us than it has been for mum, but now when we leave her the doll gives her comfort. The baby was worth its weight in gold.”