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Dolls in dementia

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As a final year neuroscience student, it has become clear during my degree that there are currently no effective drug treatments for dementia, so we must turn to other alternative forms of treatment. The use of life-like baby dolls or soft toy animals may provide positive effects for those with dementia, especially for those in the later stages of the disease.

Doll therapy may help with dementia care, as it can provide pleasure and soothe an individual with dementia. The person may see the doll as a family member, a child they are caring for, or they may be aware that it is a doll. No matter how the person perceives the doll, the person enjoys holding and engaging with it. In some cases, a person with dementia may prefer a soft animal toy.

Individuals with dementia experience agitation and distress which has an impact on their quality of life and can be difficult for their loved ones and carers. Doll therapy can help improve the mood and happiness levels of people with dementia as it allows them to express their feelings which can aid their emotions and troubled behaviours.

Other positive effects of doll therapy include:

Increased activity level
Decreased 'wandering'
Improved ability to receive care
Aids with cognitive impairment

Communication and interaction with the doll can also aid people with dementia to engage with loved ones and carers.

Doll therapy can remind individuals of their past experiences with children (or pets) which can bring back happy memories. In some cases, however, an individual can become too attached to the doll, they may worry who is caring for the doll or prioritise the dolls needs over their own, for example giving the doll their bed. The success of doll therapy is dependent on the way the doll or toy is introduced, and it is important to understand that individuals have different needs.

Some families are hesitant to use this therapy as they see it as patronising, and it can be upsetting for them to see a loved one in this child-like state. The general guidance emphasises that it is important not to treat the individual as a child but to treat with respect and dignity and that the person with dementia needs to make their own decisions of when or if they want to interact with the doll.

Although it might not suit every person, this therapy can be a source of comfort for people with dementia, whilst also easing anxiety and improving mood, and thereby ultimately providing people with an enhanced quality of life.

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