Hallmark Carehomes
How we use doll therapy to support people living with dementia

9 March 2020

How we use doll therapy to support people living with dementia

Sadly, people living with dementia commonly experience higher emotional and physical levels of anxieties and agitation compared to people living without the disease. At Hallmark Care Homes, we seek to try non-pharmacological approaches to help with this and the use of doll therapy to support some people living with dementia continues to show positive effects.

What is doll therapy?

Doll therapy is a recognised intervention for people living with dementia to help address cases of depression, agitation, and lack of fulfilment. Dolls are introduced to residents where it is felt that they may provide a source of comfort or meet an individual’s need to care for someone else.  Sometimes the person may perceive the doll as their own child or younger sibling, a grandchild, or perhaps a child they simply wish to care for.  This form of engagement may provide structure and a sense of responsibility, and has been observed to have positive effects on mood.  In other cases, the person can be very aware that the doll is exactly that, a doll, however this does not seem to detract from the positive impact on the person, and is equally as valuable.

What are the benefits?

Several dementia studies have proved the benefits of using doll therapy for people living with dementia. Since therapy dolls are designed to emulate a real human being with realistic facial construction and weighted characteristic, the interaction between a person living with dementia and the doll touches on earlier positive memories and creates a sense of responsibility and purpose.  This being said, dolls used for therapy in this way do not have to be a specific type.  A doll that has the right weight (similar to that of a baby) will often work just as well as the more expensive ones.

In several Hallmark homes where doll therapy is being used, residents are observably happier and livelier in their daily activities. It has also been observed that the dolls have helped residents interact more with the care team and other residents.

We recognise the use of doll therapy can be upsetting or confusing for some families as it may appear as if we are treating their loved ones like children, however doll therapy is always used sensitively at Hallmark Care Homes with the individual residents’ best interests at heart.

Top tips for using doll therapy with your loved one

  • Introducing the therapy doll. Carry the doll into the room appropriately and wait for the them to acknowledge its existence then invite or encourage them if they want to hold it.
  • Signs of acceptance or rejection. Observe how they react as they interact with the doll. Acceptance may show through a smile or the soft tone of voice when speaking with it. If they show no interest in it, be understanding and avoid forcing the approach on them.
  • Be knowledgeable and prepared with responses. Attachment may develop after the acceptance of the doll therapy approach. The person may begin to worry where the doll is when it is not in sight and who is caring for it and if it has been fed properly. Be prepared on how to address these questions so to avoid making them feel more anxious.
  • Introduce and explain the approach to others. It is best to make others aware and explain to others why the approach is being used and its benefits but at the same time, be understanding should they express discomfort towards it.

If you have any further questions about how we use doll therapy at Hallmark Care Homes, please contact our Head of Relationship Centred Care, April Dobson on April.Dobson@hallmarkcarehomes.co.uk

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