"As Alzheimer's disease progresses, the need to nurture, love and be loved increases." American Association of Geriatric Psychiatrists, 2012 conference in Washington DC
"As Alzheimer's disease progresses, the need to nurture, love and be loved increases." American Association of Geriatric Psychiatrists, 2012 conference in Washington DC
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Baby Doll & Stuffed Animal Therapy

Baby Doll Therapy & Stuffed Animal Therapy for People with Alzheimer’s 

Anyone who has seen it happen, knows that a baby doll has the power to soothe and comfort people with mid-late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, just like a plush stuffed animal cat or dog Memorable Pet does. Investigation of the effects that baby dolls have on people who have Alzheimer’s disease is in its early stages, however, when one talks to caregivers who have participated in baby doll therapy, most of them will speak highly about the experience.  Although for some, it can be discomforting to see an adult holding a baby doll, we need to acknowledge the benefits and keep in mind the nurturing, love and happiness a baby doll can provide for our loved ones who are suffering.



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 baby dolls were introduced to the residents. Various studies by this group, all observing the effect of baby doll therapy on people with dementia, all reached similar positive conclusions. The most recent, Using Dolls to Alter Behavior in Patients with Dementia, Nursing Times VOL: 103, ISSUE: 5, PAGE NO: 36-37, British journal summed it up like this:

The results of the study provide support for the hypotheses that after the introduction of baby dolls, baby doll users showed an increase in positive behaviour and a decrease in negative behaviour. Also, incidents of aggression lessened compared to before the baby dolls were introduced as therapeutic tools. These results support previous attitudinal studies, which have reported baby 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 all the anecdotal evidence reported by caregivers. They continuously credit baby doll therapy with increasing quality of life for people with dementia. Some have even reported that they were able to reduce medications as a direct result of doll therapy.

Another interesting and significant observation reported in these studies involves caregiver reaction to the introduction of baby dolls to the care environment. All of the caregivers in the facility were given surveys before and after the study. Initially 9 of the 46 staff members voiced some initial concern, mostly centering on perception that the dolls would be ‘babyish’, ‘totally demeaning’, ‘patronizing’, or otherwise ‘inappropriate’. In the interview that followed at the conclusion of the study, only one caregiver retained this concern.  All of the others “felt that there were clear benefits of using baby dolls. . . . 14 caregivers 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 these benefits they witnessed were the result of the individual now having a sense of purpose in nurturing and loving and caring for the baby dolls. One caregiver said of a resident, “He’s a different man with a baby doll in his hand. I found out more about him...the tender side”.

Introducing a Baby Doll or Stuffed Animal Pet

A baby doll or stuffed animal has to be introduced to those with Alzheimer's very carefully. One way is to show the baby doll or stuffed animal to the person and say "what do you think of this?"  You will know pretty quickly if the person suffering from Alzheimer's will want to hold the baby / stuffed animal and what he or she thinks of it.  A baby doll can be seen as a welcoming grandchild or the little sibling of their youth. The person with Alzheimer's may also fear the baby doll and see it as an unwanted responsibility.

It is best to introduce baby doll therapy and stuffed animal therapy in a controlled atmosphere allowing the dementia patient to take responsibility. This can bring structure to their lives in a positive manner. Our Believable Babies can help a person who is not verbalizing to initiate speech again. It is part of the basic thought process to speak, hum or sing to a baby in your arms. 

Whether you give your loved one a Believable Baby or a Memorable Pet, this type of therapy works to enhance the lives of people suffering from dementia. Give it a try!