When a loved one has Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s worth considering all possible avenues of alleviating the condition. One possible way to mitigate the ill effects is by introducing a therapy doll.

These soothing, child-like dolls have been shown to provide numerous therapeutic benefits for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. This post covers what a therapy doll is, how it can help, how to introduce it to your loved one, and the potential roadblocks.

What Is A Therapy Doll

As the name implies, it’s a weighted, life-like doll designed to provide therapeutic benefits to people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Most therapy dolls are the size of a baby or small child, often referred to as a “child representation.” This small stature allows the patient to interact with the doll as if it were their own offspring. 

A therapy doll is a cost-effective treatment that doesn’t involve any pharmaceutical side effects. The dolls are most commonly used for people suffering from mid to late-stage dementia. Patients who have previously enjoyed caring for children are most likely to reap the benefits.

How Therapy Dolls Works

Tactile and vocal interaction with a therapy doll can provide much-needed comfort and emotional support. Stroking or hugging a doll can soothe negative emotions, thus reducing agitation and mitigating severe behavioural issues.

A therapy doll can help the patient feel a sense of purpose and validation. Some will care for it as part of their daily routine, which provides a positive outlet and a distraction from negative emotions.

Furthermore, therapy dolls can bring back positive memories from parenthood, such as cuddling a child or rocking a baby to sleep. In turn, the doll can reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

How to Introduce a Therapy Doll to Your Loved One

Before introducing a therapy doll, ensure all family members have been briefed on its purpose and therapeutic benefits. The last thing you want is for an over-zealous sibling to “discover” their parent playing with dolls and react in an angry or condescending manner.

The way you introduce a therapy doll to your loved one can affect its efficacy. Every patient reacts differently, so it’s crucial to adopt a customised approach.

Dementia Support Australia recommends taking the following steps:

  • Walk inside the patient’s room while cradling the doll and sit down next to them.
  • Watch how your loved one responds to the doll. If they appear disinterested, draw attention to the doll and ask for their feedback.
  • If your loved one shows interest in the doll, ask them if they’d like to hold it.
  • Comment on the doll’s appearance—its eyes, mouth, nose, or clothes—without specifying whether it’s a doll or a real child.
  • Monitor how your loved one interacts with the doll, and evaluate whether they believe it’s an object or a living human.

It’s essential to introduce the doll slowly. Don’t try and force it—it’s up to your loved one to decide whether they want to interact with it. Not every patient responds positively, so be prepared to abandon the therapy if it doesn’t work out.

If your loved one does take a liking to the doll, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Mirror your loved one’s response—if they act like it’s a real child, then you should too.
  • Offer to let your loved one look after the doll while you’re away.
  • Place the doll in a bassinet and allow your loved one to retrieve and return it as they please.
  • When you need to take the doll away (e.g., during meals and showers), reassure your loved one you will return it soon. 

Is a Therapy Doll Right for You and Your Loved One?

Some family members may respond negatively upon seeing their loved one care for a doll. Although the treatment may appear childish and demeaning, it’s crucial to keep the patient’s needs in mind.

A therapy doll can help people with dementia feel calm, safe, and in control. Ultimately, relieving the symptoms of this terrible disease should be your number one priority.

If using a therapy doll doesn’t sit right with you or other family members (or it proves ineffective), alternatives such as soft toys or a fidget blanket can help.

Contact CareAbout Today

If your loved one suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia, CareAbout can help. From finding an appropriate nursing home to accessing a suitable Home Care Package, we can help you navigate this difficult time.

Get in touch with CareAbout today to see what we can do for you.