There are currently several different types of therapies being used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia. One new type of therapy that is gaining in popularity is doll therapy, where a senior with advanced Alzheimer’s or dementia is given a lifelike baby doll to care for. Supporters of this type of therapy say that caring for the dolls helps to engage seniors who are normally withdrawn and unable to participate in most other activities due to their advanced dementia. Many family members say that watching their loved ones play with the dolls gives them a deep feeling of comfort.
While each senior living community that offers doll therapy is different, many of them keep the dolls in a lifelike nursery where seniors can come and visit the babies. When seniors come to the nursery, caregivers do not refer to the dolls as toys, and they do not encourage the seniors to think that they are real babies either. When the seniors and the babies are brought together, the seniors are given the option of holding, changing, or dressing a baby.
Doll therapy can help in several different areas, such as to ease the senior’s anxiety, to reduce aggressive outbursts, to improve communication between the senior and their caregiver, to lessen feelings of depression and unhappiness, to reduce the need for psychotropic medication, and to spark conversation. Caregivers can ask questions about the senior’s past. How many children do they have? Do they have boys or girls? What do they love about being a parent? Many of the seniors are able to open up and talk more around the dolls than they usually do.
While there have not been very many studies conducted on doll therapy as of yet, proponents say that having a doll to care for offers seniors with advanced dementia a way to attach themselves to something that reminds them of times when they were younger. This type of attachment can help to anchor the senior in reality and to calm feelings of agitation or confusion. The caregivers who use doll therapy say that they want to accept where these seniors are mentally, meet them there, and communicate with them in a way that makes sense to the senior.