Just as precious as the patients inside this Buffalo, New York-area memory care unit is the newest delivery: a baby doll. The lifelike doll was gently cradled and cared for by a resident, Ms. Betty, who named the doll Antonio.
The doll is therapeutic, helping ease some of Betty’s dementia-related behaviors.
Various groups and nonprofits have been collecting dolls and stuffed animals and donating them to nursing homes for years. During the pandemic, some states made investments in these types of therapies.
Meanwhile, international research is growing on the benefits of doll therapy. Recent reviews and studies done in Italy, Switzerland and London found it helped to ease some of the toughest behaviors associated with dementia.
Monica Moreno, senior director of care and support at the Alzheimer’s Association, admits more research needs to be done on doll therapy. She says trying alternative therapies and following therapy protocols should be used first, rather than medication, when dealing with difficult behaviors like agitation, confusion, and wandering.
“With light therapy, there are protocols that say if someone is given 20 minutes of bright light per day, it may help reduce depression. With music therapy, it’s not just putting on the radio or playing a song. Aromatherapy can also be helpful,” Moreno explained.
Moreno says it’s important to really know the patient and tailor these therapies to the individual.
“Doll therapy may work really well with someone who loves their grandchildren or loved being a parent. But if you are caring for someone who maybe never wanted to have children or lost a child, using doll therapy may actually create the opposite effect,” she explained.
Research on doll therapy points to the need for consistent protocols to gain more acceptance and use.
“The greatest takeaway is that these therapies should not replace human connection,” reminded Moreno.
You can read more about treatments for dementia-related behaviors here.