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What Are The Benefits of Dementia Doll Therapy?

20 December 2018

Latest News

Written byHannah MacKechnie

What Are The Benefits of Dementia Doll Therapy?

The use of dolls can bring great benefits to some people with a diagnosis of dementia, particularly those in later stages. It involves making a doll available to the person to hold or to sit with.

What are the benefits of dementia dolls for people with dementia?

Some people with dementia get enjoyment from holding or simply being with a doll. It might remind them of a time when they had young children of their own or simply create pleasant feelings of reminiscence or affection. Some family members find that giving the person they care for a doll seems to inspire a renewed sense of purpose, which can lead to increased activity levels and liveliness.

Having a doll to interact with can improve a person’s communication.

Tips on giving a doll to the person you care for:

  • Introduce the doll gradually. You could place it on a chair before the person enters the room. Watch to see how – and if – they respond.
  • Let the person discover the doll in their own time. If they show no interest in it, do not worry too much about drawing their attention to it. You can always try another day.
  • If the person with dementia is interested in the doll, use it as a way to connect with them. If they aren’t able to answer questions about the doll, consider making observations about it to them instead, for example: ‘what a nice face’, ‘what a lovely dress’ etc.

Things to be aware of:

  • Not everyone will want to interact with a doll. If the person shows no interest, do not press the doll upon them.
  • Some people dislike seeing the person they care for with a doll or toy. They may think it seems like they are treating them like a child. Discuss your plans with any other members of your family first to discover their views. Explaining the benefits and the evidence may help soothe any concerns.
  • Some people with dementia may become very attached to a doll. Grandchildren or other residents in a care home may pick up the doll which could prove upsetting. Consider using the doll at times when this is unlikely to happen.
  • The person may start neglecting their own needs to prioritise the doll, for instance, putting it in their bed while they sleep in a chair, or trying to give it their food. Watch for these signs of attachment and consider using the doll away from meal times and early in the day rather than close to bedtime.
  • Be culturally sensitive – consider choosing a doll with the same skin colour as the person.
  • Try to avoid using dolls that make a noise e.g. crying noises, as this may cause distress.
  • Some people might prefer a cuddly toy or animal, so you can try making these available too and allow the person to choose.

Radfield Home Care works closely with Karen Breese, Dementia Specialist Nurse and her team at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and regularly supports the Dementia cafe ‘Golden Moments’. The Radfield care team have been heavily involved in the introduction of the dementia dolls into the cafe to the patients, outpatients and visitors, which have been well received.

Karen explained,

“The image of an older person cuddling and singing to a child’s doll can seem strange and incongruous. However, we have found some people living with dementia enjoy cuddling the dolls and it stops them being distressed and agitated.”

Dolls can help to reduce withdrawal and help overcome communication difficulties between the carer and the patient. There are various theories as to why doll therapy works. Some believe it brings back happy memories of parenthood and of being useful and needed. Doll therapy is very much a nurturing therapy, as it gives people living with dementia a sense of meaning and purpose. Interestingly, doll therapy also seems to work with people who have not had children, as people who haven’t had children find it comforting as well.”

Sonya Cole, care manager for the Radfield Home Care Shrewsbury branch commented,

“We are so grateful to Sandra from ‘Forever Dolls’ for making and donating these dolls for our clients and the dementia cafe.  They are wonderful dolls, extremely lifelike and provide many benefits to our clients living with dementia and the dementia cafe visitors. We have recently introduced ‘Mary’ a forever doll to one of our wonderful clients who lives with Dementia and she couldn’t wait to get out of bed and get ready to look after little ‘Mary’. Our client didn’t stop chatting to her and asked if she could keep ‘Mary’ overnight.

The following day our client’s daughter kindly gave us some feedback, “Mum was equally engaged with ‘Mary’ during the evening.  She has always loved babies, and I think this has been a positive introduction into the household. Being with ‘Mary’ tired mum out in a good way, as she quite willing to go to bed last night and slept through the night, the first time in a long time!” We were delighted to receive such positive feedback.”

Find out more about dementia doll therapy and what it can do to improve the lives of patients.


Dr. Hannah MacKechnie

Dr. Hannah MacKechnie

CEO & Co-Founder

A qualified GP, Dr Hannah MacKechnie founded Radfield Home Care with her brother to help people age well.

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