I couldn’t believe my eyes. While I was at the care-home where my Mama lives, I noticed one of the residents in the hallway holding a tiny baby. What were they thinking? I quickly looked around for the baby’s mother. No one seemed to be paying any attention to her. Taking a closer look at the baby, I understood why –it was a doll! It was so lifelike, and the resident holding it looked so happy.
What a wonderful idea! Even if dementia has stolen and ripped away most of who your loved one was in their younger days, the maternal and paternal instinct is so deeply embedded into us as parents that the simple act of holding a (fake, weighted) doll can awaken the natural feelings that reside inside.
I did a bit of research to see if there had been any studies regarding the use of dolls for memory stimulation. Reading through the studies I could find, I learned that the dolls did, indeed seem to wake up the maternal or paternal instinct within many dementia patients. It did appear to have a greater effect on those in earlier stages of the disease.
One study in particular, conducted in 2007, suggested doll therapy is a promising and effective approach to use in the care of older adults with dementia.
Many have found doll therapy to be a good way to engage loved ones while giving them a purposeful and rewarding activity. The dolls also seemed to have a calming effect and often created a distraction for them from upsetting events. Loved ones usually spent time rocking their baby dolls – which also helped them fall asleep. Another finding was that they often enjoyed singing to their doll, something family caregivers can join in or simply encourage their loved ones to sing on a regular basis.
The one major negative was that some family members or caregivers thought that giving a doll to someone with dementia was a demeaning and offensive practice.
The studies also agreed on some fundamental practices for the use of dolls:
- Do not call the doll a doll, refer to it as baby, or by name if your loved one has given it a name.
- Provide a bassinet or small crib for the doll.
- Do not purchase a who’s eyes open and close, or a doll that cries out loud, or as that could be upsetting.
- Do not force the doll on your loved on. Let them discover, approach and hold the doll on their own time.
- Be sure to communicate the purpose of the doll for any one else who may be providing care for your loved one.
- Never remove the doll without permission of the person with dementia. When removing the doll, healthcare professionals and family members should hold the doll as if it were a living baby and explain where they are taking it, for example, if the doll is dirty, it is going to get a bath.
I believe that the bottom line is this is, try it, don’t force it and see what happens.
There is a Postize post on my Facebook group: Finishing Well for Caregivers that has some great photos folks with their dolls. Be sure to check it out as well.
What do you think about doll therapy? Have you found it to be an effective way to treat anxiety and behavioral issues in seniors with dementia, or do you believe that it is demeaning and an offensive practice?