A number of care homes across the country are introducing doll therapy for their residents with dementia. This approach offers lifelike toys to individuals to improve their comfort, engagement and quality of life in a calming manner.
For many of the residents, being able to hold a doll takes them back to a time when they were parents. It’s a natural instinct to cradle a baby and the effect of comforting someone else can also produce positive feelings for the individual themselves.
The benefits of doll therapy have mainly been understood anecdotally, but some studies into the schemes are starting to appear. It could be a relatively inexpensive way to give people with dementia a sense of purpose and companionship.
Monmouthshire County Council is among the authorities offering doll therapy, having purchased 50 of the lifelike toys. They are being shared around care homes and day centres in Gwent to see how they can bring joy to dementia sufferers.
Sarah Turvey-Barber, strategic and sustainable living manager at the council, told the Guardian: “There are nearly 8,000 people with a diagnosis of dementia in the greater Gwent area and it’s expected to be nearly 12,000 by 2030.
“Initially the feedback [about the dolls] was brilliant. Nursing staff said it was making such a difference, making people feel calmer and helping them to understand and engage in conversations.”
Each doll costs between £165 and £185 to purchase, as they are more sophisticated than the toys usually owned by residents’ grandchildren. They weigh the same as a real baby, make gurgling noises, appear as if they have a heartbeat and you can see the chest rising and falling.
It can take some time for families to get used to seeing an elderly relative with a doll, but most people come round to the idea after a short while. It can bring back memories of caring for their own children and can even prompt some residents to talk when their conversation skills have been in decline.
Phyllis Greening, a 90-year-old with dementia, who attends a day centre, told the news provider: “I love them. They remind me of my twins. I had a boy and a girl. I’m also a twin.”
Dementia UK recognises the benefit of dolls for people with the condition and offers tips and advice on things to consider for families wishing to trial the idea with their relatives. These include: introducing the doll gradually, giving them a choice of dolls, and making observations about the doll.
Not everyone with dementia will respond in the same way to doll therapy and it may not be appropriate in some cases. It should always be considered as part of a wider care plan, but families who think it could benefit their relatives should think about discussing the idea with care staff.