Doll Therapy – Frequently Asked Questions

By Jane Verity

‘What do you do when a resident wants to keep the doll? Do you let them have it?’

If the person likes and wants to have the doll – yes; always let them keep it. It would defeat the purpose to take it away.

‘Who should pay for the doll?’

There are many options to purchase dolls. Families might be approached and it could be suggested that the entire family put in together to buy a doll for their family member to ease any financial strain. In a facility, sharing the doll among more than one person is often a possibility. Otherwise, a raffle could be held to raise money to buy dolls and then, when someone loves a particular doll, it is not an issue if they’d like to keep it. Another suggestion is to seek funding support from local community clubs, such as Rotary, Lions or the Probus Club.

If you do this, you could include the The Great Doll Therapy Debate article with your application to explain the benefits  behind doll therapy.

‘How do you use dolls in a dementia unit where two residents clearly benefit from having dolls to nurture, but a couple of other residents, who are more aware, become upset by the use of dolls, and think it is "very wrong"?’

While residents in the later stages of dementia can benefit from doll therapy, residents in the early stages or those without dementia may find doll therapy very challenging. This could be a global challenge affecting their responses in general to people with dementia, rather than just in regard to the use of dolls.

People in the early stage of dementia and those who do not have dementia are often challenged by those in the later stages. They are very aware that things are not as they used to be and may become distressed when they see their future mirrored in those who are in the later stages. That is why they may react negatively; it is simply their means of defending their self-identity. Be aware that the attitudes and reactions of those in the earlier stages can prove emotionally destructive to those in the later stages and can damage their self-esteem.

Where possible, separate the two groups to avoid any unpleasant confrontations. It may help to set up a small ‘day centre’ within the unit where one or other of the groups can go during the day. This way the needs of everyone can be met without upsetting others. Remember that we can’t change people with dementia, so we need to look further afield for solutions.

‘I am interested to know if doll therapy could be adapted for men e.g. using trainsets or cars etc?’

Though train set and cars can provide great fun, these would fall under the categories of ‘joy of play’ and reminiscing. They would not provide an opportunity for the person with dementia to nurture, give love, bring loved ones alive, reduce feelings of loss and insecurity and the many other benefits that dolls and doll therapy create.

The introduction of train sets and cars can certainly be supported. What man hasn’t craved a train set at some stage in his life, but may never have had the time, room or funds? These are wonderful suggestions, however cannot give the same emotional benefits as doll therapy.

‘Our residents love and cuddle their ‘precious ones’, kiss them, sleep with them, feed them etc. and therefore the dolls and their clothes need to be easily washed and wiped. Several changes of clothing are needed. Modern baby clothes seem to be more practical for laundering.’

Ask yourself, ‘Do we make our decisions to suit staff or the residents?’  While we might get away with using modern clothes on the dolls, the extra joy the person with dementia can experience through the delight of old style clothing with their many layers speaks for itself. The laundering of older style clothes could be a special volunteer job, perhaps done in close connection with  the residents. The clothes could be hand-washed and ironed on the premises as an everyday, meaningful activity that  takes place as part of the day-to-day care of the doll.

The most important aspect of doll therapy, of course, is to fulfil the innate human need to care, and to give and receive love.