Helping with Alzheimer’s – Dolls to the Rescue

doll5We humans are social animals. We need company. All of us have this need to be surrounded by human company, greenery and pets at all times. But at certain age and state, having someone besides us at all times is not possible. So a look alike baby doll helps recreate that bonding of love and care between grandchild and grandparent. This therapy helps to add life to the years of our elders suffering from Dementia/ Alzheimer’s. Many seniors with Alzheimer’s suffer from agitation and distress, Doll Therapy can alleviate this. Dementia patients can be withdrawn and communication, between patients and carers difficult. Some caregivers try to ease the burden by giving loved ones life-like dolls to love and care for. The dolls can become an integral part of a senior’s life and caring for the doll as they would care for a baby becomes a major part of their day to day responsibilities.


Really! What is Doll Therapy?
Doll therapy, also known as cuddle therapy, may bring back some happy memories of early parenthood and help make seniors feel useful and needed. As humans we have the instinct to nurture. We want to show affection, to give love, and to receive love. That need doesn’t go away, even as memories deteriorate with dementia. The instinct to show affection is strong. Baby Doll doesn’t require anything other than affection. In return, the doll brings comfort. Comfort to an Alzheimer’s person who is almost totally dependent on others to provide for her. Comfort to a person who deep down is still a parent.

imageWhy? Does it Help?
At Ashcroft Care Home based in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, UK, they have reported that life-like baby doll therapy has cut the number of patients using psychotropic drugs from 92 per cent at the start of 2008 to 28 percent. While most evidence in support of doll therapy is anecdotal, one study completed in 2007 found that it could be used to increase positive behaviors and decrease negative behaviors in users and they concluded that such therapy is an effective approach in caring for seniors with dementia. Their behavior improved, including a reduction in aggression and agitation. The aim of diversional therapy is to cure disease symptoms, to increase motivation, to remove pain, and to alleviate frustration. In addition, patients look happier and are more expressive, and this enables them to communicate better with others, promotes their social functioning, and stimulates their senses and perceptions. People with Alzheimer’s disease tend to forget recent memories first, so taking care of a doll will bring back old memories of raising their own children — taking them back to a happy time in their lives. Due to effects of dementia many of these patients still believe they are young, so when they adopt a doll, it brings back happy memories of parenthood. Having a doll can reawaken positive memories of being useful and needed; being loved and of loving.

OK then. When?
Doll Therapy is best introduced in the early to middle stages of Alzheimer’s. . Introducing a doll in the early stages will allow the owner to become used to it and as the disease progresses the bond is set and the patient will be able to get comfort from the doll well into the later stages. The Alzheimer patient may communicate with the doll through singing, talking and cuddling. Introducing a doll in the late stages of Alzheimer’s is not quite as effective as in the early stages. Dolls however, are not a cure and the sufferer will not suddenly transform back to their former self because of a doll but it is the comfort the patient feels that is the real benefit of doll therapy.


Tips for Using Doll Therapy
Consider the following suggestions when introducing a doll to your loved one:
1. Do not call the doll a doll.
2. Provide a bassinet or small crib for the doll.
3. Do not purchase a doll that cries out loud, as that could be upsetting.
4. Since it has been reported that some severe dementia patients tend to eat hair, it seems preferable for the doll’s hair to be painted.
5. It is best not to give the doll as a gift, or force it on any senior. Accepting the doll should be your loved one’s choice.
6. Communicate the purpose of the doll for anyone else who may be providing care, and to your family and friends.
image**Case Study at A1 Snehanjali
Since Doll-therapy has been acknowledged around the world for its ability to soothe elders with dementia. Understanding the benefits that this could induce, the team of caregivers at Silver Inning’s A1 Snehanjali decided to allow the elders to experience this first-hand and see the results by initiating this at the centre.
They brought a life-like infant doll from Care, Singapore, for the senior citizens and allowed them to spend time with them. To give it an identity, the doll was christened Chintu and wrapped in a towel, just like a newborn.
The activity area was immediately abuzz as Bhaskar uncle became the first person warming up to interact with “Baby Chintu”. Soon everyone wanted to hold him and be with him – as if he were really a child of their family. Very soon the elders began playing with Chintu, singing to him, conversing with him and treating him like one of their own as happy smiles spread on their faces.
As Sushmita, one of the visiting volunteers observed … “The residents clicked with it instantly. Maybe it brought back latent memories of their earlier, sweet time now forgotten. They were really connecting to it affectionately. Holding its tiny hands, keeping it covered, cuddling and tickling its tiny feet. I cannot put into words the waves of feelings that were hitting my conscious and subconscious. This whole experience was overwhelming to all my senses.”
The session extended into hours and the whole atmosphere became charged with cheer and celebration. Volunteers stayed in the background and observed instead of actively participating so that they could understand the responses of the elders better. The day turned out to be a memorable and joyous one for the elders as well the team of Silver Innings, leaving everyone overwhelmed and content. At the end of the session, elders with dementia interacted in a more cheerful and relaxed manner and expressed their happiness with ease. It was a win-win for everyone.The team of A1 Snehanjali has introduced doll-therapy more regularly and is looking forward to a more healing changes and transformations in the residents.

And So…
We conclude that Dolls can provide activities and opportunities for social interaction. Rocking a doll to sleep may in fact help your loved one get to sleep. Putting clothes on the doll and pushing it in a stroller can also be enjoyable. This can be an activity your loved one can share with grandchildren.This inexpensive doll is effective in promoting healing and motivation in patients with dementia. While Dementias has no cure, it certainly needs compassion…

Acknowledgement and thanks to ,, ** Excerpts from Article by Suhana Bhatia: Founder – Write In Light and other resources.

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