Doll therapy is a kind of complementary therapy whereby people living with dementia are given a doll or an animal toy to look after.
It’s usual for centres to use these props for people in the mid-to-late stages of their disease.
Here are a few of the advantages of using dolls as part of a treatment programme:
Gives them a purpose
People with dementia are often used to being on the receiving end of care, so having a doll can give them a sense of purpose. By looking after the doll as if it were a child, it can bring them comfort and something to love. This is turn has been shown to minimise distress.
Dolls can be used as part of the carer’s care to open up the channels of communication during reminiscence activities or in general. The carer can ask questions with reference to the doll, or ask the person about what it was like when they had children or a pet of their own.
Makes caring easier
As the person has built up trust with the doll, if the carer holds the doll while trying to get their loved on to do something, then they are more likely to respond positively to the request. A 2007 study showed that positive behaviour increased among the test subjects.
As the doll provides comfort to the person, having the doll or toy around can make them feel at ease in an unfamiliar situation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that participants appear to smile more when they have dolls around.
Studies have also demonstrated that people are more willing to get involved in activities and be sociable as well as eat more. Instances of wandering are believed to decrease as a result of doll therapy.
Things to look out for
Some people get so attached to the doll, they get distressed at the thought of leaving the doll alone when they go for meals or other activities. Others try to feed the doll or put the doll to bed in their own bed. This can sabotage their own wellbeing, and so has to be managed.
Opposition to doll therapy
Some people feel that doll therapy isn’t treating the person with dignity, instead of treating them as a child. Others believe it is unfair, making them believe that the doll is a real child. Family members can particularly feel uncomfortable.
Yet lots of care professionals feel it’s important not to dismiss something that clearly provides comfort and can help open up the channels of communication.
It’s important to consult the person’s family and those who make decisions on their behalf about any new therapy used within a care setting so it doesn’t come as a shock.
- Make sure the doll therapy is part of the care plan if you plan to use it
- Let the loved one set the tone for the therapy – Let them find it and embrace it themselves. Only continue with the therapy if they seem to take to it and do it in their time.
- Have a spare toy in case of breakage or loss to avoid unnecessary distress
- Treat the toy in the same way as your loved one treats it.
- Use the doll as a talking point and ask questions about parenting and the feelings they associate with those past experiences.
- Provide a little cot for the doll to sleep in so that they have their own bed, not your loved one’s.
- Use for reminiscence activities.
- Respect the person at all times.
- Remember doll therapy is not for everyone.
- Be sensitive to people’s personal situations – Not everyone has had children and some couldn’t, so doll therapy might bring up some emotions.
- Talk down to the person because they have a doll – Always be respectful.
- Give them the doll or force them to take the doll.
- Don’t use a doll that makes sounds as this can confuse the person and upset them.
- Don’t refer to a doll as a doll.
- Don’t use the doll when your loved one is eating or when they’re going to sleep for the night.
- Don’t leave the dolls out when children are visiting – Hide the doll somewhere safe.
At Me2U Centre, we provide a range of therapies and activities to offer enjoyment and generate positive feelings. Find out more about what your loved one can do at the Centre.