Benefits of Doll Therapy

Your Questions Answered…

“I’m quite wary of some of the more ‘alternative’ things used in dementia activities – such as doll therapy. How can I be sure they’re going to work?”

Helen Johns, one of our activity coordinator trainers, answers: “I do understand your possible scepticism. It can take time to get used to some of the more alternative or unique ways of connecting with family or residents who are living with dementia. I have used doll therapy a lot in my work (and especially when caring for my mum), but it’s a been gradual shift to embracing these more unique approaches. Over the past few years I’ve had to change my thinking on many aspects of dementia activities, and be more flexible in my approach to what is ‘right’.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to keep things as they’ve always been and make sure that your loved ones or residents are still seen as doing things that are ‘normal’.   This might be about protecting them from what others might say or think, but if we are being honest, might also be about protecting ourselves from the notion that we’re doing something that might make us feel uncomfortable. It is hard to change old views, but as you find out more about the ‘feelings’ side of living with dementia, it’s really up to us to ‘get over it’ (‘it’ being whatever makes us uncomfortable) and focus on helping our loved ones or residents feel happy.

After years of trying idea after idea to help mum remember this or understand that, I realise that the only thing that is important is to keep mum happy and let her show us what does that.  Together with the support of well-trained, knowledgeable, caring staff we can learn new ways of doing things.

In terms of doll therapy specifically, I find family members may be reassured if:

  • Staff demonstrate that they understand the therapeutic aspect of doll therapy
  • Families are included in the care planning and the benefits of doll therapy to that person are explained
  • They can see the comfort that their loved one gets from having the doll
  • They can see that the therapy is used sensitively and their loved one is protected from critical eyes/comments

Coincidentally, when visiting mum the other day, I spotted a doll that had ‘appeared’ in the dining room and brought it over to where we were sitting to show mum. While mum knew it was a doll, she was delighted by this little thing and her face lit up when she was exploring its baby features. She smiled and bounced the doll on her knee and suggested we get it some clothes. That brief, but lovely, experience gave me a bit of insight into just how effective doll therapy might well be for those who benefit from it.”

Helen Johns runs some of our Activity Coordinator training days. The training has been developed by Suzanne Mumford, a Dementia Nurse Specialist and CQC Specialist Nurse Advisor, to empower activity coordinators to make a real difference in their care home setting. You can find out more and book online here