Doll Therapy for Alzheimer's Disease (Baby Doll Therapy)

Dolls have been shown repeatedly to soothe and comfort people with Alzheimer's. Although there has been little formal investigation of the effects that dolls can have on people who have Alzheimer's disease, talk to caregivers who have participated in doll therapy for dementia and most of them will speak positively about the experience. Dolls have been shown repeatedly to soothe and comfort people with Alzheimer's. Although it can be discomforting to see an adult hold a doll, we need to acknowledge the benefit that doll therapy can provide.

Doll Therapy Research

Much of the research involving doll therapy for Alzheimer's disease has been carried out at Newcastle General Hospital in England and in care facilities in the area of Newcastle. Clinical Psychologist Ian James and nursing specialist Lorna Mackenzie, with others, reported significant improvement in the behavior of nursing home residents with dementia when dolls were introduced to the residents as a choice.


He's a different man with a doll in his hand. I found out more about him—the tender side.

~ Caregiver


Various studies done by this group, all observing the effect of baby doll therapy on people with dementia, all reached similar conclusions. The most recent, Using dolls to alter behaviour in patients with dementia, Nursing Times VOL: 103, ISSUE: 5, PAGE NO: 36-37, summed it up like this:

The results of the study provide support for the hypotheses that after the introduction of dolls, doll-users showed an increase in positive behaviour and a decrease in negative behaviour and incidents of aggression compared with before the dolls were introduced. These results support previous attitudinal studies, which have reported doll therapy to be an effective approach in reducing negative and challenging behaviours, and promoting more positive behaviours and mood.

These conclusions are in agreement with so much anecdotal evidence reported by caregivers that generally credit doll therapy with increasing quality of life for people with dementia. Some have even reported that medications have been reduced as a direct result of doll therapy.

Another interesting and significant observation reported in these studies involves caregiver reaction to the introduction of dolls to the care environment. All of the caregivers in the facility were given surveys before and after the study. Although nine of the 46 staff members voiced some initial concern, mostly centering on the idea that the dolls would be 'babyish', ' totally demeaning', ' patronizing', or otherwise 'inappropriate'. In the interview which followed the conclusion of the study, only one caregiver retained this concern. All of the others "felt that there were clear benefits of using the dolls. . . . 14 carers felt that residents' lives were a little better, and 32 felt that their lives were much better.

Benefits reported by the staff included a calming effect, reduction in wandering, increased communication and improved speech. Many of them expressed the opinion that the effect was the result of the individual now having a sense of purpose or focus. One caregiver said of a resident, "He's a different man with a doll in his hand. I found out more about him—the tender side".


I gave my dear Mother one of the dolls from "doll therapy" just a few months before we had to put her into full time care. The doll is the love of her life. It is the only thing she feels safe and comfort from and with. It is the only thing that she is able to talk to freely and love and nurture. She believes she is the doll's grandmother and that the doll is real. She carries it everywhere with her and it's beautiful to see that even though she is in the penultimate stage of vascular dementia, she is still able to display the loving and nurturing part of her nature that we all had the joy of receiving over her many years. Thank you. Kate

~ Kate - Sydney, NSW, Australia


Guidelines for Doll Therapy

Doll therapy (also known as baby doll therapy) is not for everyone. More women than men will choose a doll to nurture, but some men do benefit from holding a doll, so don't rule out doll therapy for the man or men in your care. Another option to the doll is a Teddy Bear or other stuffed animal. We have a selection of bears and other animals that provide aromatherapy and heat and cold therapy as well as the therapy provided by the act of nurturing. Our best-selling Twiddle Pup and Twiddle Cats, in certain cases, would even qualify for doll therapy.

It is important that a doll not be given directly to the person with Alzheimer's disease. Rather it should be left somewhere, on a table or sitting in a chair, for example, somewhere that it will be found. This way the individual can make the choice to provide care for the doll, not feel that they are being given the responsibility to do so, which could cause anxiety or result in the doll being rejected.

For Doll Therapy to be effective, it is recommended that you use a doll that is as lifelike as possible. Introduce the doll in the middle stages of Alzheimer's, or even in earlier stage, depending on the individual. Often when introduced later, the person fails to or has a more difficult time making a connection with the doll. Once the connection has been made, the rest is easy. It's a self-administering therapy.

Some Precautions

The nurturing instinct is strong. This is a big part of the reason that doll therapy is effective, but it can lead to some problems that should be watched for when introducing dolls as therapy. In community settings, ownership issues have led to arguments between residents. Anxiety can result from dolls being mislaid. Family members of caregivers sometimes see the use of dolls as demeaning. The first two of these concerns can usually be minimized by recognizing their potential and by re-directing the residents' attention if the problem arises and before it has had a chance to escalate. The problem of relatives' concern is best addressed through education. Visiting relatives almost always have their loved-ones' best interests at heart.

Other considerations: "(T)here was evidence in our study that residents could become over-invested in caring for their dolls. It seemed, at times, the doll's interests were being put before the resident's own well-being. Also, on occasions, the dolls may have over-stimulated some residents, causing them to become excessively tired." * It should be repeated here that doll therapy is not for everyone. If you see that it is being more problematic than beneficial, discontinue it in favor of some alternate non-pharmacological therapy.

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* A pilot study on the use of dolls for people with dementia. Age Ageing (July 2006) 35(4): 441-444 first published online April 25, 2006 doi:10.1093/ageing/afl007



The Ultimate in Doll Therapy


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We offer a choice of eight Cuddle Babies. All are perfect for use in doll therapy for Alzheimer's disease. Each doll is aproximately 19 inches tall and weighs about 3 pounds, with a face that is both realistic and adorable.


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