Researchers Gary Mitchell and Hugh O’Donnell say that limited scientific evidence supports “doll therapy” for people with dementia. However, they assert the therapy is being widely used. This would indicate that caregivers find that giving a baby doll to a person with dementia works well in reducing symptoms. However, there are pros and cons to the use of dolls as therapy for people living with dementia. Let’s look at some of these pros and cons.
Pros of doll therapy for dementia patients
- Lowers distress levels
- Raises quality of life
- Reduces the need for drug therapy and drug side effects
- Reduces strain on caregivers
Cons of doll therapy for dementia patients
- Treats a person living with dementia as if he or she were a child
- Involves dishonesty and deception
- Is manipulative
- May cause conflicts in institutional settings
Should real human needs be satisfied by unreal means?
“…human beings desperately need attachment to others in order to grow into normal and healthy human beings.”Clearly, people’s attachments to their dolls are very real to them. Doll therapy’s scientific roots are in the field of “attachment theory.” Mitchell and O’Donnell trace the idea of “doll therapy” back to John Bowlby, who came up with “attachment theory”–the idea that human beings desperately need attachment to others in order to grow into normal and healthy human beings. Attachment theory holds that the quality of our early relationships with caregivers determines a great deal about our mental health for the rest of our lives. People living with dementia long, as do all human beings, for significant and meaningful attachments to others. A surrogate “other” in the form of a doll fulfills some of these needs admirably. Yet perhaps in societies where the extended family is the norm, or even in modern developed societies where the “sandwich” phenomenon of multigenerational homes becomes usual, such attachments may occur naturally. For example, a real grandchild or great grandchild might be placed in an elderly person’s lap for short periods of time, providing the same benefits (and maybe more) as doll therapy. Such everyday occurrences in multigenerational homes may be the real clue as to how to help people living with dementia come out of their shells and their agitation. The answer to calming people living with dementia may be simply acknowledging that for them, like us, vital human relationships are a need from birth to death. Sources HealthDay (2011). Can “Doll Therapy” help put dementia patients at ease? U.S. News and World Report, May 6. Available online at http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2011/05/06/can-doll-therapy-help-put-dementia-patients-at-ease. Mitchell, Gary & O’Donnell, Hugh. (2013). The Therapeutic Use of Doll Therapy in Dementia. British Journal of Nursing, (22)6. Available online at http://nptherapies.org/es/images/a/a2/Doll_therapy_2013.pdf. Scott, Paula Spencer. (2009). Caring Currents: Baby Love: Therapy for Alzheimer’s Sufferers. Caring.com, September 29. Available online at https://www.caring.com/blogs/caring-currents/alzheimers-baby-dolls. Whitlock, Angela. (n.d.). Using Doll Therapy to Engage. Alzheimer’s Society, United Kingdom. Available online at http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=2222.