How dolls can help some residents with dementia

How dolls can help some residents with dementia

If you visit one of our residential homes you may find residents with dolls treating them as a baby, this is part of doll therapy also known as cuddle therapy.  The theory behind doll/cuddle therapy is that for someone it may bring back happy memories, with the doll being cared for as they would have cared for a baby. We try to use dolls that are as lifelike as possible but they don’t cry as this could cause distress.

Memory loss is a large part of dementia and affects each person differently.  Often memory can be recalled from earlier in their life, but recent events or familiar recent situations may be forgotten.  The Alzheimer’s Society say “It is thought that older memories – which are thought about more often – become more firmly established and are more likely to be recalled than newer memories.”

Doll therapy has been in use for over 20 years but much of the evidence supporting its use is anecdotal.  There are studies done by a number of bodies, NICE guidelines which are favourable about the therapeutic use of dolls with people living with dementia but like all things doll therapy isn’t something that will work with all people.  Where it works studies show it could be used to increase positive behaviours and decrease negative behaviours.  We therefore provide dolls in our homes for those that benefit from comfort, activity, inclusion, communication & interaction, identity and the memories dolls/baby can evoke.

We will never force dolls on anyone, like everything there must be a choice.  We had a baby doll in one of our homes, lying in a small Moses basket and it brought a smile to many when they watched a gentleman gently rock the basket with his foot.  You couldn’t help but wonder how many hours he had perhaps spent rocking his own children to sleep.

I have visited with my own son and sat with a lady who had her ‘baby’ doll and was happy chatting about sleep habits and sharing some top tips with me. The whole time we spoke she was stroking her doll whilst it was on her lap.

Within our homes we are constantly looking to introduce activities that bring a smile and for those that choose to care for the baby dolls a lot of pleasure is gained and looks of contentment on resident’s faces.

We will soon be introducing a reminiscence box of baby things which will help stimulate memories and stories.  So far we have nappies, knitted clothes, baby grows, first shoes, and talc to name a few.

For some dolls provide purpose, nurture and comfort and it is for them that we have dolls available in our homes.

Here is an example of doll therapy:

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