In conclusion I have reflected on the outcomes of the project. To enable me to separate the boundless emotional joy we experienced, from the ‘rewards’, I have referred back to the initial aims.


Exploring using puppets to interact with residents some of whom may have dementia.

  1. To promote enjoyable interactions.
  2. to interact with individual residents using puppets to create ‘Now Moments’ of communication.
  3. To inspire Care Staff to value their interactions with the people they care for, some of whom may not be able to verbally communicate, using puppets as the tool.
  4. To share simple puppet making skills with Care Staff and residents.
  5. To generate two Life Story puppets for the home to continue to use.
  6. To generate a site on the web to document this creative use of puppets in a Care a Home.

1. To promote enjoyable interactions.

I observed that within this group of elderly people most of them have limited nonverbal and verbal communication skills, resulting from illness and dementia.  The puppets provided the opportunity for the residents to interact without the need for them to verbalise or respond to requests and instructions.

We have captured many images of the resident’s responses – smiling, laughing and intrigued by the puppets. The puppets did provide enjoyable interactions.

The puppets inspired communication that was not task oriented around their care needs but around pleasant and often joyful and fun interactions.  The residents did not have to do anything but live in the moment.

The puppets had an effect on everyone moving the very caring team away from their task orientated role and into light, fun and joyful interactions. We were all inspired to feel happier by the puppets generating a wonderful atmosphere for us all to share and enjoy.


  1. Exploring using puppets to interact with residents some of whom may have dementia.

The owner Alan Pearce and Manager Sheena Pearce welcomed me and the puppets to Beech Court Care Home in Selston Nottinghamshire with open arms and helping hands on many occasions.  It was a privilege to be given the trust and creative freedom to deliver this arts project to their residents and involving their staff in all the aspects of the residency.

My first contact concerning this arts project was with Alison Pearce the then Manager who was an initiator of this ‘Puppets in Dementia Care’ project. Alison was also inspired. We made a connection; she too could imagine using Puppets to enter the barriers and confusion in people’s minds.  Alison fully understood my intention of working with individuals to create ‘Now Moments’ with individual residents and not as an entertainer. By the time the application was successful she had moved to work at another of the Pearce families Homes – ‘Five Gables’.  We had chosen to deliver this arts project at Beech Court because of the high levels of residents with dementia that had limited communication and would benefit from the interactions with puppets.  I am pleased to say I remained at Beech Court, staying in touch with Alison throughout the puppet project.

While working at Beech Court I held in mind that I needed to work with residents and staff by respecting individuals, giving compassion, listening, giving empathy, providing creative opportunity, support and creating a sense of possibility with people’s dignity held in high regard.  As a professional with experience in working with people and training in Arts, and experience of providing Care and Counselling I was able to work providing a sensitive approach.

I prepared, made, collected and used different Puppets to explore and generate interactions with residents, staff and visiting families.  I observed that each puppet inspired the puppeteer and resident in different ways often reflecting their personalities.

The older looking male puppet, who looks like a ‘Muppet’ puppet, changed his name to ‘Ken the Conductor’ – he became a born leader during the sing-a long sessions inspiring people to join in with him.  The pet puppets I made from soft toys, taking the stuffing out of them to make them into glove puppets. This enabled me to make the pets snuggle up to residents giving comfort, the pets also responded nicely to been stroked.  The pet puppets were very popular with staff and residents; however one man did tell me he wasn’t a child he didn’t need toys – I told him I understood where he was coming from and that age appropriateness was something I considered.  He responded with no such reserve to the glove puppet he made of himself as a “time keeper” and of a male puppet he made which he described as – “this puppets definitely younger than me, he has adventures still, I can make him fly”.  Making the puppet himself gave him ownership and inspired him to give a personality to his puppets which he valued.

I took along my collection of vintage Pelham Puppets which inspired some people to verbally reminisce, what impressed me too was how the residents who no longer held the ability to speak remembered how to skilfully use the Pelham marionettes.  Wow!

Quote from a lady of 95 years, I was using a cat puppet which I was snuggling into her neck-

“What it is I love- is bringing pretend into my life which allows me to move my mind”.

I am humbled by this revelation and the experience of bringing enriching moments into older people’s lives by using puppets.

Annette Waterfield. Participatory Artist.

A learnt from this lady, that by making an art project accessible and focused to people with dementia it was in fact beneficial to the wider arena of elderly people in the Care Home and they too were able to enjoy the puppets and appreciate why they enjoyed them.


  1. Interacting with individual residents using puppets to create

‘Now Moments’ of communication.

The ‘Now Moments’ are a connection through participation with Puppets generating communication and enjoyment as an emotional response to the animate object. 

The dementia in many of the residents may have limited their ability to verbally communicate and understand, however the puppets movements inspired nonverbal responses.  Through this puppet art project these responses were valued.

I observered that the residents responded to the puppets with a smile with the puppets and often the puppeteer too.  These smiles are an expression of their happy emotional connections.

Quote by a member of the Care Staff

 “I spend hours looking after our residents and care for each one of them.  I know I talk to them a lot – I give lots of instructions like ‘stand up – push up on the chair – let me help you, here is your drink, here is your food, would you like to…’ I found it special and rewarding to use the puppets and watch the residents respond.  It’s such a change to my normal working routine, I enjoyed myself too”.

Now Moments and more…

Holding Hands

I observed that the residents also reached out to touch the puppets; it is interesting that their minds retained the need to touch.   I wonder if the motivation to touch the puppets is to help people’s understanding – natural curiosity, or is touch important to making emotional connections?  I learnt that the ability to touch the puppets is important to the residents. I also noticed with the puppets that resemble humans that the residents sort to find the puppets hands. They were motivated to do so overcoming physical restraints. Having observed residents touching and holding the hands of the puppets – I altered puppets giving some puppets bigger hands to be held.

Eye Level Connections.

I have symptoms of aging myself; sore knees, and so I took along a vintage wooden children chair to enable me to spend time comfortably at a lower height with the residents.    This children chair gave me a comfy position to bring the puppets onto the laps of the seated residents and allowed me to have direct eye contact which I feel contributed to the generation of the ‘Now Moments’. I have learnt that my age related problems generated an opportunity to engage using increased and improved communication tools – the eyes.

The ‘Now moments’ we aimed to inspire were bigger than I was able to imagine or I am able to understand.  Which I feel gave a deeper and more valuable meaning to each resident’s puppet experience.


  1. To inspire Care Staff to value their interactions with the people they care for, some of whom may not be able to verbally communicate, using puppets as the tool.

I endeavoured to consult and include the Care Staff through the consultation over the joint activity programme. I provided some equipment and materials to enhance their programme which helped our constructive working relationships.

During the delivery of the puppet arts project I focused my communications with the Care Staff, providing lots of reassurance, understanding and empathy to their vital work in caring for elderly people with dementia.

The staff accepted that my approach was not to use puppets to entertain but to work one to one with residents to generate connections.

The warmth and energy of the team, who became puppeteers’ too, was amazing from the first session to the final celebration. Without the Care Staff valuable involvement the project would have had no long term influence.

One or two staff did feel too inhibited to be puppeteers, but I noticed they joined in the puppet making craft activities where they felt personally comfortable.


At the end of the first session the Activity Coordinator Pat gave me a hug and said

“I can tell you genuinely care about residents, we care too and this puts the jam in the cake making them a whole person again, enjoying their life”.

5. Share simple puppet making skills with Care Staff and residents.

The programme evolved to: – the one to one puppet delivery which inspired many ‘Now Moments’.  Followed by a lively sing-a-long with puppets which was inspired by one ladies love of music hall songs.  A break for lunch with a quieter session where together we made puppets. We then had an adoration session of the new homemade puppets in use.  This evolved programme suited the residents and the Homes routine.

The residents preferred to take part in the craft activities sitting in their comfy chairs.  I provided lots of trays and used the coffee tables for them to work upon. I endeavoured to encourage the residents to be involved in the ‘doing’, some did while others watched and enjoyed the staffs company.

We made tiny rod puppets using photographs of each resident which gained a fantastic response from residents and staff.  They enjoyed seeing themselves transformed.

I used a table top size puppet theatre and endeavoured to share a story using these puppets. One lady took against my story telling and so not to provoke her aggressive behaviour we took a long interval.  I wondered if my story telling was too loud, no one knew!  I was pleased I had the understanding, time and opportunity to work flexibly with and around the behaviours individuals presented due to their dementia.

These rod puppets of each resident take pride of place on the walls of a busy corridor and were transferred onto a cake for the final celebration.


Written quote taken from the care staff feedback forms.

‘Did you learn or have your knowledge clarified by anything this arts project had to offer?’

“I learnt that residents enjoyed craft activities, still.

They liked all of them including colouring and using tennis balls to make simple puppets, I enjoyed doing something different with them too”.

  1. To generate two Life Story puppets for the home to continue to use.

We planned and held a final ‘Celebration of the Puppet Arts Project’. We invited along the residents families, the Managers provided lifts to enable a close family member to attend.

I presented the two ‘Life Story’ puppets to Beech Court Care Home.  I shared with everyone the life stories of the two residents which we had researched using articles and memories supplied by their relatives and from their written records.

During my ‘story telling’ the lady who the Life Story concerned eyes sparkled and she gave a beaming smile directing her eyes towards me.  Her daughter in law said she witnessed her nodding her head in agreement with me about the importance of the colours in her nursing uniform dress and belt. We feel she understood we were talking about and valuing her life history.

It was also clear the gentlemen understood it was his Life Story, joining in “I had a wife too” and using his hands to help describe the cake walk attraction at the fairground where he met her.  He too beamed and enjoyed the claps that his story inspired.

The owner and Managers said the puppets would take pride of place on the side board to enable people to continue using them.

Sensory Interactions – off shoot.

As an experienced Activity Coordinator I am aware of the benefits of providing a wide range of activities, endeavouring to stimulate all the individual residents.  At the start of this puppet art project I felt the need to respond to residents motivations acknowledging that puppets may not stimulate everyone. During my first session I observed a lady engage with a piece of sequined sari fabric which I had wrapped a puppet in.  She rolled the fabric in her fingers watching it sparkle in her hands; she played with the sari fabric for a long period of time and became calmer – less anxious. The Care Staff shared how they knew she liked shinny things because she’d enjoyed seeing the Christmas trimmings.  My curiosity was hooked I wondered what else I could provide that she would benefit from. At all the future sessions I provided a selection of shinny objects for her to engage her fingers and senses in.   I watched her spend large amounts of time exploring with her fingers and eyes, encouraged the care staff to observe her calmness too.  I left objects behind but often they were tidied away or kept somewhere safe for me.  I reflected that I should have been clearer in asking the staff to enable her to explore and play with them when I was not there. The good news is that I managed to convey this desire by the end of the project.  The staff celebrated with me how they helped her stay in a positive mood and that she was not calling out so much when she had shinny objects to occupy her fingers and mind. Providing shinny sensory objects to stimulate this lady were a resounding success, which was continued by the Care Staff as they learnt to value the positive effect they had calming the lady.

  1. To generate a site on the web to document this creative use of puppets in a Care a Home.

Here it is –

“Proof of the pudding is in the eating”.

Annette Waterfield

Participatory Artist.

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