Doll therapy has earned the reputation of being one of the more controversial therapies used in the dementia care field today, but at Safe Haven we like to keep an open mind and give our clients the option to choose for themselves.

In our experience, doll therapy tends to work very well with female clients who are experiencing a lot of anxiety through their dementia. Some of our male clients have also taken an interest in the dolls and, much like our ladies, will treat the doll like a real baby, but don’t tend to connect with the therapy on a long-term basis.

We recently welcomed a new client to Safe Haven who worked for many years as a midwife. This particular client can no longer communicate and, although she tries to get her words out, it is very upsetting and frustrating for her as she cannot do so. We then introduced her to our doll therapy session, and were amazed that after just a short period of time her communication had improved and she was able to say a few words really clearly. We also noticed that the therapy made her much calmer and content, proving that you have nothing to lose by trying such therapies.

For the therapy to work, you can’t present a typical plastic or fabric toy doll to the person. It’s essential that the doll is very realistic, and looks and feels just like a real baby in appearance and weight. The very collectable-type dolls that fall into this category often carry the scent of a new-born baby, along with touchable baby hair, crinkly baby skin and dimples and fingers that almost grip when held.

We feel it’s important to follow some basic rules when introducing the therapy to a person for the first time. We always initially refer to the doll as a doll, that just so happens to look like a real baby.

Often, our client will immediately treat the doll as if it’s a real baby, and automatically cradle and comfort the baby in their arms. Once this happens, and a connection has been made, it’s vital that you go along with the scenario and allow a relationship between the baby and the client to develop, as the results can be extremely powerful.

Many of our clients who have extreme anxiety will talk constantly, appear fretful, often keep getting up and down from their seat and generally showing signs of feeling very restless. On many occasions, when doll therapy is introduced, the client almost immediately appears far more settled, calm and content. They seem to forget about the world around them, and settle into the nurturing role of a mother. They talk at a far more normal rate, and tend to need far less attention.

At this stage, it’s a good idea to name the doll, to further establish the therapy. The client will sometimes name the doll themselves, often using the name of their own child or grandchild. Or, they may just use a name that they have always liked, or a name that has some kind of connection with their past.

Some clients refer to the doll as a doll, and make it quite clear to us that they know it’s not a real baby. It’s important to let the client know that you are not trying to treat them like a child, and that you also know it’s a doll. However, the idea behind the therapy can still work, and they can often go on to play the role of a mother with the doll; also benefiting from the warm and nurturing feelings that doll therapy can create.

Some carers find doll therapy difficult to encourage. This can often be because the person with dementia is living very much in the past, and forgetting that they have grown up children. It’s very natural to want to bring them back to the here and now, and doll therapy could make the matter in hand even more confusing. However, it’s worth considering that sometimes it helps to allow the person living with dementia to be able to return to a time in their life where they felt at their happiest, fulfilled and very much needed. For many women, it’s when they were young mothers, nurturing their new-born baby.

For more information about doll therapy and the benefits of our other activities and therapies, please call 01494 854 399, or email us at: enquiries@safehavendementiacentre.co.uk