Doll Therapy

27 August 18

One of our core values at Respect is innovation and the team at Hobart’s St Ann’s have recently implemented a very innovative approach to improving the lives of residents that are currently living with dementia – doll therapy.

Doll therapy originated in the 1990s with the aim of reducing behavioural issues and psychological disorders in people with dementia.  It is linked to Bowlby’s ‘Attachment Theory’ and was thought to be helpful to apply in people with dementia to ease emotional problems and anxiety.

Doll therapy is similar to other therapeutic interventions like music therapy, aromatherapy and art therapy, with the intention to lessen the reliance on pharmacological treatments to manage the challenging behaviours that can accompany dementia. It is believed that the therapy promotes a sense of fulfilment and emotional attachment for residents who may struggle with depression and a lack of personal fulfilment.  Caring for the dolls allows residents to feel a sense of accomplishment and gives their lives a sense of purpose.  A growing body of research is promoting the benefits of doll theory, which can include:

– An increase in positive social behaviour

– Decrease in medication

– Diminished agitation, aggression and wandering

Doll therapy allows appropriately identified people to interact with dolls and care for them as they would a living child.  Residents can rock, feed, change and dress the dolls, which are often kept in bassinets and prams. It is important that both staff and resident families are on board with the doll therapy, to ensure that the approach has the best chance for success.  Not all therapy techniques and treatments are appropriate for every resident, so a thorough screening process is being undertaken at St Ann’s to ensure that only the most suitable residents participate in the initiative.  It is important to note that doll therapy is never about teasing residents or making them look foolish but rather giving them the opportunity to feel loving and useful by utilising an innovative approach to dementia care.

"We find that doll therapy works very well with some of our lovely residents in the dementia unit. One lady will most often immediately calm when handed her 'baby' and will hold, talk and sing to her for quite an extended period. Any anxiety appears to abate and the love the resident gives to her 'baby' is evident - Darelle Jerrems (St Ann's)"