Why I support doll therapy for Alzheimers

I heard an interesting story on NPR today: the increase in doll therapy for patients with dementia:

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Guzofsky, who has Alzheimer’s disease [pictured above], lives on a secure memory floor at a home for seniors in Beverly Hills, Calif. She visits the dolls in the home’s pretend nursery nearly every day. Sometimes Guzofsky changes their clothes or lays them down for a nap. One morning in August, she sings to them: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray.”

No one knows whether she believes she is holding a doll or a real baby. What the staff at Sunrise Senior Living do know is that Guzofsky, who can get agitated and aggressive, is always calm when caring for the dolls.

Doll therapy is catching on at nursing homes and other senior facilities across the country. It’s used to help ease anxiety among residents with dementia, who can experience personality changes, agitation and aggression. But the therapy is controversial.

Supporters say the dolls can lessen distress, improve communication and reduce the need for psychotropic medication. Critics say the dolls are demeaning and infantilize seniors.

Full story here.

I understand the concern that critics may find this kind of treatment demeaning to seniors who now need care to do basic everyday tasks.

However, let’s think of this as something else: Play Therapy.

It’s true that it can be hard to tell if the patients realize this is a toy doll or real baby. However this could potentially be very similar to a child’s imaginary play with dolls or an imaginary friend: kids know it’s pretend, but also get very invested in their pretend world, taking care of their babies, feeding them, changing them, snuggling them for comfort.

I also agree that the positive results – reduced stress, increased verbalization, and more – without the use of medication, make it worth more exploration rather than outright rejection because of its use of toys and play. Maybe the nay-sayers should give it a try.

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