Doll Therapy

Comfort can sometimes be found in the most unusual places for dementia sufferers.

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There is an estimated 40 million people worldwide living with dementia and, with no long term cure currently available, there is a big focus on finding ways to alleviate symptoms and help to improve the quality of day-to-day life of those suffering from the illness.

A recent video posted on social media, which shows the joyful reaction of an elderly lady who suffers from dementia when she receives a doll for Christmas, went viral at the end of 2015, amassing 3.1 million views and over 90,000 likes. Many people were surprised by the lady’s reaction and, whilst it may seem like just a small thing, the heart-warming video has highlighted the benefits of an unusual kind of therapy that we actively use at our Balhousie Care Homes called doll therapy.

Benefits of doll therapy on residents

Doll therapy is the use of life-like baby dolls by people who have dementia to provide comfort. Being in a care home and being cared for by our staff can often be frustrating for our residents as they have spent many years caring for themselves and their children and we often see that having a doll to care for gives them a sense of purpose. For those who have a more advanced form of dementia and suffer from memory loss, it can help evoke happy memories of early parenthood and this itself is something that can bring huge amounts of joy to our residents and has proved beneficial for both male and female residents in many of our care homes.

Recent studies at Newcastle University have shown the positive benefits of such therapy. The studies, conducted in 2006 and 2007, showed an increased level of engagement from participants, a reduction in distress and in some cases showed a reduced need for psychotropic medications prescribed to those with dementia.

However, understandably, it is often very difficult for residents’ families to see their loved ones playing with toys meant for young children and sometimes it can be difficult to understand the benefits. Our staff are well trained in explaining to relatives the positive effect that such therapy can have on their loved ones and the recent video posted on social media has been effective in raising awareness about the unusual form of therapy.

Person-centred care

Whilst we actively promote this type of therapy here at Balhousie, it isn’t something that works for everyone and utilising doll therapy is an active choice made by a resident.  If our residents choose this kind of therapy it will  have been through picking up a doll themselves and it is important that if more than one resident is using this kind of therapy in a care home that each doll is different  to avoid any confusion.

Studies show that between 60-90% of people with dementia suffer some form of distress. Other therapies which have been known to have a similar positive effect in people with dementia are pet, music and dance therapy. Getting the chance to interact with an animal has proved very beneficial to some residents and in many of our care homes we have animals that regularly visit, much to the delight of some residents.

Music and dance is another important style of therapy and it’s well known that no party at a Balhousie care home is without both! It is thought that music reaches parts of the brain that communication cannot and we often see residents who are less able to communicate really engage with a certain song that has evoked memories.

These therapies can seem like just ordinary things to most people, but for our residents who have dementia, we’ve seen a clear reduction in distress and anxiety and we’ve helped them regain their sense of purpose that they may feel they’ve lost in the later stages of their life.

There are many perceptions about dementia and it is important to remember that what works for one individual will not always work for another.  For every resident, we spend time finding ways to stimulate happy memories, or reducing their anxiety.

If we can help those suffering from dementia to remember their lives and take comfort from moments they have enjoyed in the past, then we will find the best way to work towards that, through our various therapies, from doll therapy to music and pets.

If you’d like to find out more about the work we do at Balhousie Care Group, speak with a member of our team by calling 01738 254254 or find out more by visiting