Therapy dolls are designed to provide comfort and support to older adults suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. They are an effective way to provide a non-drug method of helping to reduce agitation and improve mood while also offering companionship.
When I worked as an Occupational Therapist in nursing homes, I remember introducing therapy dolls to many patients in the dementia care units. Especially the ones in the late stages of dementia.
The majority of those patients benefited from this type of therapy and I would highly recommend it.
While therapy dolls are not new, they are becoming increasingly popular as medical problems involving cognitive impairment such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease become more prevalent.
Both lifelike dolls and a soft toy can provide comfort to people with dementia.
There are many benefits to using therapy dolls for dementia patients. They can help to reduce agitation and anxiety, while also providing a sense of comfort and companionship.
In addition, they can help to promote positive social interactions, encourage engagement, and reduce feelings of loneliness.
The use of therapy dolls can also be tailored to suit the individual patient, which can help to improve their quality of life.
For example, if a patient is struggling with insomnia or restlessness at night, they may benefit from a cuddly doll that can be hugged throughout the night.
Family members may complain that the use of dolls is infantile and an insult to the sense of dignity for their senior loved one.
But in my experience as an Occupational Therapist, the absolute opposite is true.
Caregivers aren’t trying to make their charges believe the dolls are real infants, and they don’t want to infantilize the seniors, Drew said. They are just “trying to meet them where they are and communicate with them in a way that makes sense to them.”Cnn.com – a quote by Ruth Drew, director of family and information services at the Alzheimer’s Association
What Is Doll Therapy For Dementia
Doll therapy is a type of activity that is sometimes used for dementia patients in nursing homes or memory care units.
The therapy involves giving the person a doll to hold, as if it were a baby. The patient might rock the doll, sing to it, and cuddle it.
Doll therapy can work with different types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease.
Later stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s can be very challenging for patients, their families, and caregivers.
One way to cope with the anxiety and stress that comes with this progression is through doll therapy – a form of occupational therapy that uses specially-designed dolls and accessories to improve communication and engagement.
However, I will say that doll therapy is not appropriate for all dementia patients. Some patients might become agitated or upset when given a doll.
It is important to consult with a doctor or care provider to determine if this therapy is appropriate for a particular person.
Overall, the benefits of doll therapy are likely to outweigh any potential drawbacks for many dementia patients.
Why Are Therapy Dolls Becoming Popular?
There are a number of reasons why therapy dolls are becoming more popular among caregivers and therapists who work with dementia patients.
One reason is that dementia affects the part of the brain that controls emotions and social interactions. This can make everyday activities and communication very difficult for patients.
Another reason is that drugs used to treat dementia can have severe side effects and are not always effective.
Some medications can also cause agitation and other unwanted behaviors in dementia patients.
Therapy dolls can provide a safe, non-drug alternative to treating agitation in those with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
They give patients something to care for, which can be calming and soothing.
And they help engage the sense of touch, which can be helpful in treating the emotional and behavioral symptoms of dementia.
Real babies provide a natural source of comfort and companionship for individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Through therapy dolls, these benefits can be replicated, allowing people with memory loss to experience some of the same feelings they would get from interacting with a real baby.
This can certainly bring up happy memories of early parenthood for many patients.
My mom-in-law always says that the happiest years of her life were when her children were younger!
How Can Therapy Dolls Help Dementia and Alzheimer’s Patients To Communicate?
Therapy dolls are a great way to help dementia patients who have difficulty communicating their thoughts and feelings.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients may have trouble communicating their needs. However, therapy dolls can help by providing a nonverbal way for patients to express themselves.
For example, a patient may become agitated when he or she is trying to communicate a need but is unable to find the words.
In this case, holding or reaching for a doll is often enough to get the person’s attention and let him or her know that someone is there to help.
This allows the patient to communicate more easily with others and decreases feelings of frustration, isolation, and anxiety.
Watching the care and attention given to Helen’s “baby” today was heartwarming! We love doll therapy at craigielea and so do our very caring residents ❤️❤️@InshawSheila @HolmesCareGroup @DementiaUK #dolltherapy @WhatsOnRen @ShActivities pic.twitter.com/IQIWjkCmmx— Lucy Reid (Craigielea Care Home -Renfrew) (@ReidCare) February 13, 2020
These dolls can also provide comfort for dementia patients who are suffering from grief or depression.
Holding a soft doll can remind them of a time when they were loved and cared for, and help to ease the feelings of loneliness and sadness that can come with the disease.
What Are Therapy Dolls?
Therapy dolls, also known as comfort dolls, are specially designed to provide comfort and companionship to people living with medical conditions such as anxiety, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Often used in nursing homes and memory-care units, they can help reduce anxiety and agitation, while promoting positive social interaction.
Can Any Doll Be Used As A Therapy Doll?
Not every type of doll can be used as a therapy doll. Ideally, it should be soft, cuddly, and have facial features that are easy to see.
It should also be the right size for the patient to hold comfortably.
Therapy dolls are different from regular dolls in a few important ways.
- They are typically made from softer materials, like cloth or velour, to make them more huggable and comforting.
- They are usually designed with simpler features, such as embroidered eyes and mouths, to help reduce visual confusion.
- They are safe for patients to interact with, which means that they don’t have parts that can be removed or swallowed.
- They often come with a special scent, like lavender or chamomile, to help soothe and relax the person holding them.
- The most important aspect of a therapy doll is that it is a realistic doll. In other words, it needs to look realistic.
They come in all shapes and sizes, with each one offering something different for the patient.
For example, smaller dolls may be better for those who suffer from anxiety or stress, while larger dolls can be used for patients who need more support and reassurance.
How Do Therapy Dolls Work?
Therapy dolls are a great tool for helping to address challenging behaviors in patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
By improving communication and promoting feelings of connectedness, these dolls can help lower anxiety levels and improve overall quality of life for patients.
Whether used as an independent activity or incorporated into more traditional therapeutic strategies, therapy dolls can be a powerful tool.
Studies on doll therapy are limited, but some research has shown it can reduce the need for medications, diminish anxiety and improve communication, according to Gary Mitchell, a nurse specialist at Four Seasons Health Care in the United Kingdom who has authored a new book about doll therapy.beingpatient.com
There are not many studies into the use of doll therapy so empirical evidence is sketchy. But what is not in question, are the many reports of therapists and nurses on the benefits of using this type of therapy with their patients with issues of cognitive decline.
Today, I had a magical moment using doll Therapy.The lady came alive: speaking about her children, grandchildren, naming the doll Terry after the brother she lost in the war. Giving hugs,kisses, cuddles to the doll &was happy & content @HPFT_NHS #OT #dementia #meaningfulactivity pic.twitter.com/xzmEerCENk— LizbrinklowOT💙 (@Elizabe53333321) May 17, 2021
In our study, participants are in a stage of disease in which relationships become difficult and painful due to the difficulty the nurses and patients themselves encounter in reciprocal interpersonal and emotional tuning. The situation of reassurance offered by DT (doll therapy) could promote the activation of the system of caregiving and of exploration. This could support an adaptation to the illness. Ultimately the experience of DT may promote the patient’s well-being.journal.biomedcentral.com – Study on doll therapy intervention for women with dementia
In this study published in the National Library of Medicine, they used control groups and experimental groups to study the use of Doll Therapy.
The researchers found that “…doll therapy improved the emotional state, diminished disturbing behaviors, and enhanced communication with the environment in dementia patients.”
How Do You Use Doll Therapy?
Doll therapy is a non-drug approach that can be used to calm and soothe agitated seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia. It involves giving the patient a soft, lifelike baby doll to cuddle.
This type of therapy can be effective in calming someone with severe agitation or other significant behavioral challenges.
It can also help the person to reconnect with their own childhood or spark memories of their own children. Both of which can be a source of comfort.
There are a few things to keep in mind when using doll therapy:
- Choose a doll that is soft and has a realistic appearance.
- Make sure the doll is clean and free of any sharp objects or loose parts that could pose a choking hazard.
- Introduce the doll to the patient gradually, letting them become familiar with it before encouraging them to cuddle it.
- Supervise the patient while they are using the doll, and be prepared to remove it if it becomes a source of frustration or agitation.
Doll therapy is a popular form of dementia rehabilitation that provides an emotionally engaging, imaginative experience for adults living with memory loss.
Dolls have been shown to decrease anxiety and agitation while increasing social interactions in those experiencing these symptoms due to it being seen as something familiar which brings back memories from happier times gone by!
I loved using doll therapy with my patients and I can tell you that the majority of them responded very well to this therapeutic technique.
Why Do Dementia Patients Want Dolls?
Dementia is a serious and often debilitating condition that can cause significant personality changes, aggression, agitation and anxiety.
One therapy that I used often as an Occupational Therapist was introducing my patient to their very own therapy doll.
But, like most anything else, there are pros and cons, supporters and opponents to this type of therapy.
Supporters of using dolls with dementia patients say that the dolls can help reduce distress, improve communication and reduce the need for psychotropic medication.
They also argue that the dolls can provide a sense of comfort and security for dementia patients.
Opponents of using dolls with dementia patients argue that the therapy is unnecessary and could potentially cause more harm than good.
They are concerned that the dolls could lead to patients feeling more confused and agitated.
In my experience in working with thousands of patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s I have never seen a patient become more confused and/or agitated from interacting with a doll.
But that does not mean it has never happened.
There is no clear evidence that using therapy dolls with dementia patients is beneficial. However, some studies have shown that the dolls can help reduce anxiety and improve communication.
If you are considering using this therapy, it is important to speak with your doctor or healthcare provider first.
How Do You Introduce A Doll To A Dementia Patient?
When it comes to introducing therapeutic dolls to dementia patients, it is best to follow a few simple steps.
In most cases, the doll should be placed in a location where it will be discovered by the person with dementia, rather than just handed to him or her.
This allows the patient to initiate engagement with the doll if he/she chooses. It also makes it easier to judge whether or not he/she is interested in the doll.
Some tips for introducing a therapy doll to a dementia patient include:
1. Placing the doll in a location where it will be discovered, such as on the bed or at his/her usual spot at a table or desk.
2. Sitting near the person, so that you can see how engaged he/she is with their own baby doll. You may need to sit for a while before he/she notices it and decides if he/she wants to interact with it or not.
3. Speaking calmly and in a normal tone of voice when introducing the doll. This will help to keep him/her from feeling overwhelmed or confused.
4. If he/she seems unsure of what to do you may try to demonstrate how to interact with the doll, such as by giving it a hug.
5. Allowing plenty of time for him/her to interact with the doll. It is important that he/she have the opportunity to explore the doll at his/her own pace.
6. Encouraging him/her to talk about the doll, if he/she wants to, but not pressuring him/her to do so.
7. Respecting his/her decision to interact with the doll or not. Some people with dementia may not be interested in engaging with a therapy doll and that is perfectly okay.
8. Cleaning the doll regularly, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, to ensure that it is safe to use.
Some other important factors to consider when choosing a therapy doll for use with a person with dementia include…
- Age and Gender: Most therapy dolls are infants. A male person with dementia may do better with a boy doll vs. a girl doll.
- Size: The doll should be a manageable size for the patient to hold and play with.
- Weight: The doll should be lightweight enough that the patient can carry it around easily.
- Material: The doll should be made from soft, safe materials that won’t irritate the patient’s skin .
- Features: Choose a doll with features that are appropriate for the patient’s stage of dementia. For example, some dolls come with built-in sound and vibration sensors that respond to being hugged or held.
For example, some dolls have realistic facial features that could be frightening to someone with dementia.
Others have clothing with Velcro closures, which may be difficult for some people to manipulate safely.
The right doll can provide a variety of benefits to the person with dementia, including increased sensory stimulation, improved communication skills and enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence.
After you choose a doll for your loved one, be sure to engage him/her in interacting with the doll regularly.
This can help reinforce memory recall and improve the quality of life for your loved one.
One important thing to remember: When choosing a therapy doll for your loved one, it’s important to consider her individual needs and preferences.
Benefits Of Doll Therapy For Dementia Patients
Doll therapy, which uses dolls as a therapeutic tool to engage people with dementia in meaningful social interaction, has been found to have many benefits for patients.
The limited number of studies on doll therapy for dementia have found that it can reduce aggression, obsessive behaviors, wandering, and negative mood, among other benefits, and that it can also improve a person’s ability to relate to others. A study published in July 2018 in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry concluded that doll therapy significantly reduced the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia as well as caregiver distress.everydayhealth.com
Some of these benefits include reduced aggression and obsessive behaviors, improved mood and ability to relate socially, and decreased wandering.
These positive effects may be due in part to the fact that doll therapy can provide a sense of normality and routine for patients who are experiencing the disruptive effects of dementia.
In addition to the above-mentioned benefits, this type of therapy has also been found to improve cognitive function in some patients with dementia.
It can effectively improve the cognitive function and memory of AD patients, reduce agitated behavior, improve mood, and enhance quality of life.Annals of Palliative Medicine
In my experience as an Occupational Therapist, in addition to brain games and adapting daily tasks, the benefits of doll therapy have been very beneficial.
Another important benefit is the sense of attachment and connection that an appropriate doll can provide for the patient.
Some people, she said, may not be able to talk anymore but still find a sense of security with the dolls. “You can read it in their body language when they pick up the doll,” she said.Kaiser Health News
It is a fact that human beings are social animals.
We have a need to interact with others, to feel a sense of connection.
This is especially true for those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Isolation and loneliness can be incredibly detrimental to their health and wellbeing.
Disadvantages Of Doll Therapy
Caring for dementia patients is a difficult and challenging job.
One challenge those caring for them face is the inability of those with dementia to discern physical objects from people. This can lead to many issues, such as increased aggression and reduced eating habits, among others.
For example, if a dementia patient becomes aggressive when one of their dolls is taken away from them, it may cause more problems than it solves.
Along with this, there is also the issue of emotional attachment to the dolls. What I saw in my patients who used dolls, was a strong emotional bond that they experienced with their dolls.
This became problematic only when we had to take the doll away to wash it or clean it somehow. So, we tried our best to include our patients in this task so that they would not get upset.
Plus, it’s a meaningful task which is always a good thing!
Another problem with using doll therapy was with explaining it to the families of the senior with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
The comment I heard the most was “She’s not a child.” Of course, that is very true.
But the reality is that although the person in front of them appears to be an older adult (and of course she is), the way her mind is now working is no longer of that of an older adult.
It has, in many ways, reverted back to a childlike status.
They are adults and we want to treat them like adults…Stephanie Zeverino – Community Relations coordinator at Belmont Villate Senior Living in Ft. Lauderdale
The dolls in doll therapy are not “played” with. They provide a sense of comfort, a connection to an emotion that the patient can relate to.
Best Types Of Therapy Dolls For Dementia Patients
If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, you may have already learned that there is no single “right” therapy or treatment approach that works for everyone.
However, there are some types of therapy dolls that can be extremely beneficial to patients who struggle with memory loss and other cognitive difficulties.
You may have to try one or two before you find the right one for your senior loved one.
There are basically two major types of therapy dolls:
- Baby dolls (children)
- Pets (dogs and cats)
Here are some to consider:
Real baby dolls are just one type of therapy doll that can help dementia and Alzheimer’s patients reduce anxiety and improve communication.
If you feel that an older looking doll may be better for your senior loved one, this one could work quite well.
Of course, as I stated earlier, dolls don’t have to be “children”. They can also include pets such as cats like this one.
And of course, dogs like this one too. There are many adults who have great compassion for dogs and cats and these can be just as beneficial as any therapy doll.
There is no single “best” type of therapy doll for dementia patients, as each individual will have different needs and preferences.
For some patients, a baby doll is perfect, for others, a stuffed animal can be calming, providing a sense of familiarity and security.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is doll therapy controversial?
Doll therapy is a divisive subject, seen by proponents as a beneficial method to decrease distress, enhance communication, and reduce psychotropic medication in dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Detractors, however, view it as infantilizing and degrading to seniors. Despite criticism, some healthcare professionals maintain that the therapy’s positive impact on patients, notably in reducing anxiety, underscores its value.
Why do dementia patients think dolls are real?
Dementia patients may perceive therapy dolls as real due to cognitive impairment affecting memory, thinking, and communication. These dolls offer comfort, reducing anxiety and agitation common in dementia. Therapy dolls also address feelings of disconnection by offering companionship and helping to stimulate the mind, keeping patients engaged. Selecting a therapy doll for a dementia patient should prioritize safety, durability, and suitability for dementia care.
Do baby dolls help Alzheimer’s patients?
Therapy dolls can aid in managing dementia symptoms, offering numerous benefits such as anxiety and agitation reduction, alleviating loneliness, sensory stimulation, fostering communication, and providing comfort. When selecting a therapy doll, it’s vital to choose one that is soft, lifelike, made from natural materials, and appropriately sized – small enough to be easily carried, but not so small that it resembles a toy.