Doll therapy for Alzheimer’s? A baby doll for an Alzheimer’s disease sufferers seems an unlikely gift idea, right? Think again. A ninth grader in Paris, Arkansas, founded “Dolls for Dementia,” a nonprofit organization that provides dolls and stuffed animals for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Their donations are recommended by the National Alzheimer’s Association and are made specifically for dementia patients.
The reasoning behind providing dolls for Alzheimer’s patients is based on compelling hypotheses. Study results reported by England’s Nursing Times indicate real benefits. The introduction of dolls can increase positive behavior and decrease negative behavior. Having a realistic “newborn” doll or a stuffed animal to care for seems to be soothing. Studies conducted at England’s University of Newcastle on Tyne even pointed to doll therapy lowering the patients’ need for anti-psychotic drugs.
While conclusive studies have not been done on doll therapy for Alzheimer’s, the conventional wisdom is that there is value. Although some see a connection between the dolls and parenting memories, dolls also benefit those who have never had children. Giving the person with dementia purpose and responsibility appeals to many.
Benefits of Providing Doll Therapy for Alzheimer’s Patients
Our own Baton Rouge Home Instead nurse believes doll therapy for dementia is beneficial for some. She has seen doll therapy for Alzheimer’s patients work in a nursing home setting. She has witnessed first-hand negative fidgety behavior replaced by care for the “baby.” The introduction of the doll also allowed the staff to redirect the patient. When she became agitated and loud, they could caution her to not wake the baby. She believes the benefit of providing doll therapy for Alzheimer’s patients varies from case to case. Doll therapy for Alzheimer’s sufferers is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Benefit simply depends on the individuals and their living situation.
Doll therapy for Alzheimer’s is controversial. Many families perceive a loved one caring for a doll or stuffed animal as demeaning. The therapy is not to be entered into lightly. There is a slow and careful process necessary for success. It must be acknowledged that with the many benefits can come various problems.
The Difficulties of Providing Doll Therapy for Alzheimer’s Patients
The downside to doll therapy for Alzheimer’s patients can come when a senior over-invests, putting the doll’s well-being above his own. A senior may also become over-stimulated due to his or her fixation on the “baby.” In a mixed setting, other facility residents may not understand the purpose of doll therapy for Alzheimer’s patients and tease or berate the one who cares for a doll. Forgetful patients may frequently lose their “babies” and so become agitated and distraught.
Care home staff need to monitor residents’ interactions with the dolls very carefully. Some care homes have found residents can get too attached to the dolls, putting them to sleep in their beds, for example, while they sleep in the chair. They have also led to arguments between residents.
Afterwards, however, everyone said there were clear benefits and reported a calming effect, reduction in wandering, increased communication and improved speech.
So, doll therapy for Alzheimer’s is a decision that must focus on the person with the disease. The journeys of no two people with dementia are ever the same. Behaviors and outcomes, and in this case, therapy success, are as individual as the person affected.
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