Doll Therapy for Seniors with Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Real Life Doll (Donna Lee Originals)

Dolls and toy animals have been found to be not only good for little kids, but also for seniors suffering from dementia. Doll therapy has been shown to be a very unique non-pharmacological way for treating seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Other non-pharmacological therapies that can help people with Alzheimer’s are pet therapy, music therapy, art therapy, aromatherapy and occupational therapy.

Life Size Dolls and Toy Animals help to Awaken Memories

The dolls and toy animals in this case are life-size, can open and close their eyes and have soft bodies that can be cuddled. The dolls can also help with reminiscent therapy in bringing back old forgotten memories of childhood or from the time these seniors suffering from dementia had taken care of their own babies and pets.

Doll Therapy has Positive Effects on Behavior in Alzheimer’s Patients and can Lead to a Decrease in Medication

People with Alzheimer’s disease in nursing homes often present a real challenge for those taking care of them, as they may exhibit all kinds of psychological behavior problems. Medication has many dangerous side effects and is also expensive. Studies show that doll therapy is effective enough in many cases, so that demented people need less medication.

Studies also show that seniors who take care of a doll feel less agitated and less likely to be aggressive and combative. Also, they are not as inclined to wandering.

Dolls Help with Socialization

The dolls can also help them to improve communication and socialize with other demented seniors, caregivers, nurses and family members.

Dolls Help with Sleep Disturbances

Many people with Alzheimer’s suffer from sleep disturbances, but rocking a doll to sleep or cuddling up with one in a bed can help them sleep better. They might even sing them a lullaby.


Some of those suffering from dementia actually believe they are caring for a real live baby or a new grandchild and they become very attached to it. They will clean it, wash it and show real concern for their new baby. The dolls help to bring out all kinds of good nurturing feelings. It is important for the staff not to correct the person who believes the doll is a real baby and the staff should be consistent, so that they will not be contradicting each other.

Doll as a Gift or Left Lying around to be Found

After consultation with family members, the doll may be offered as a gift to a senior with dementia. It is not forced on them. However, some believe it is best to let the person find the doll by leaving it lying around rather than giving it to them as a gift. Also, each patient must have his or her own doll or animal. This is also for health reasons to prevent infections that might occur if several people share the same doll or teddy bear. Those suffering from dementia can be left alone to play with their dolls, unlike a live pet therapy animal that requires a professional pet therapist to also be present. Not everyone with dementia will accept the doll or care for it.

Dolls Should not be used as a Bribe or as a Punishment for dementia patients

The doll should not be taken away from patients as some kind of punishment and neither should it be used as a bribe.

Some People are Against Doll Therapy

Those that oppose doll therapy give the following reasons:

  • They do not think there is enough real evidence to prove that it is helpful.
  • They think it is wrong for the staff to portray the doll as a real live baby.
  • They think it is wrong to think of old age as a second childhood.

Most People with Alzheimer’s or other forms of Dementia will Eventually Need Long-term Care

If you need to find a long-term care solution for your loved one, then pick a skilled nursing facility that has a memory care unit like the Van Duyn Center for rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York.


Anything that can help treat people with Alzheimer’s and bring them comfort like doll therapy should be welcomed, especially as this can achieve results with less medication, is less expensive than drugs and does not have dangerous side effects like some of the drugs given to people with Alzheimer’s.


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