Toy dolls can bring children comfort. And they may provide a similar perk later in life for people with dementia.
Two women made news for giving baby dolls to people with different types of memory loss living in a Kentucky nursing home. As the pictures show, the residents seem to enjoy cuddling with their tiny bundles.
The concept is not new. Researchers call it “doll therapy,” and it’s meant to help people with moderate to severe types of dementia. Experts say it has pros and cons.
Word-of-mouth accounts suggest it might improve a patient’s mood, calm them when they’re agitated, and a give them a sense of companionship, says Ruth Drew, director of information and support services for the Alzheimer's Association.
But some people could “become too attached to the doll and experience anxiety if the doll is misplaced, or become so involved in caring for their doll that it becomes a stressful chore for them,” she says.
Also, some caregivers may have reservations about giving their adult loved one a toy. They might feel it’s patronizing or demeaning, Drew says.
But if you’re open to the idea, it may be worth a try. “We encourage caregivers to explore activities that will best engage the person they are caring for,” she says. “People living with Alzheimer’s -- particularly in the later stages -- can respond to a variety of different interactions or stimuli.”
“Though there may never be a robust scientific trial proving the benefits of doll therapy, for those who find comfort, it seems to be a safe way of improving the lives of people with Alzheimer’s,” says Neha Pathak, MD, a medical editor at WebMD.
If a doll doesn’t seem like the right choice for your loved one, you could find out if they enjoy “music or art or pets -- even dance,” Drew says.
The key is to “find activities that meet the person with the disease where they are in that moment, and help them enjoy life with dignity.”