How Doll Therapy Helps Seniors Living with Dementia

June 25, 2020

Doll therapy can be a contentious issue, particularly if you have limited experience of dementia. Concerns around dignity are not uncommon. However, experience has shown that doll therapy can have a wonderful effect on some people, bringing a sense of purpose, joy and peace.

It can be heartbreaking to watch a loved one struggling with the symptoms of dementia. Anxiety, depression and agitation can be debilitating – but in some instances a therapy doll can provide the right connection to soothe and comfort.

The need to give and receive love is basic to the human condition. People who respond well to doll therapy believe that the doll is a living baby that needs them – which can trigger past feelings of care. This provides them with an outlet for giving and receiving unconditional love.

Nina And Shaika getting ready to bath a baby doll

Nina takes great pride in caring for her doll, which reminds her of raising her own children. Nina is pictured here with kind and supportive staff member Shaika. At Mayflower, Doll Therapy is held in a respectful and fun manner, that also honours the resident’s dignity.


Benefits of doll therapy in aged care

Anyone who has seen it happen knows how wonderful a doll can be for the right person.  Increased happiness, engagement and interaction are just some of the benefits, along with reduced symptoms of anxiety and agitation.

Nina, who lives at Mayflower Reservoir, is one of those people.

The Mayflower team are always on hand to assist Nina, with kindness and dignity, ensuring that her doll’s accessories are readily at hand.

According to Dementia Australia, the formal investigation on the effects of therapy dolls is still in its early stages, but most caregivers who have participated – such as our Reservoir aged care team - speak positively about the experience.

Key benefits of doll therapy for seniors living with dementia include:

  • Providing a sense of belonging and purpose
  • Helping to maintain mobility and social skills
  • Enabling a sense of comfort and security
  • Decreasing boredom which can reduce the appearance of agitation and wandering
  • Increasing social interaction, connection and engagement with others
  • An outlet to talk about feelings and experiences with the doll

Doll Therapy can also allow people living with dementia to reminisce about earlier years when they had young children or babies of their own - and in turn, helping staff or family members to connect with them on a deeper level.

Tips for interacting with your loved one

If your loved one has a doll that they love, here are a few simple tips to help you interact with them in a safe, respectful and dignified way.

  • If your loved one sees the doll as a living baby, it is important to treat it like a baby, with warmth, love and care.
  • Refer to the doll as “baby”, or ask the person what the babies name is, just as you would with any infant.
  • Be careful how you hold the baby. Never pick the doll up by the arm or head, as this can be traumatic.
  • If you need to purchase a new doll, we recommend choosing one that is of a realistic appearance and size wherever possible, to add realism to the experience.
  • Encourage the person to change the doll’s clothing, nappy, wash its hands or face, bathe it, and put it to bed, like you would with any baby.
  • Be careful not to take the baby away – this can evoke a sense of loss, so put the ‘baby to bed’ when it’s not in use, preferably in a small bed or Moses basket.

Nina And Shaika bathing a baby doll

Nina and Shaika bond over the bath time experience together.

A realistic looking baby doll in a Pink hat with a bow.

Pictured here is a great example of what a realistic therapy doll can look like.

Click for more information on the dementia support that Mayflower Aged Care has to offer.