Baby Doll Therapy and Alzheimer’s Disease

by Nancy Wurtzel on June 5, 2013

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Those of us who are Alzheimer’s caregivers are used to seeing abilities ebb away.  My mom — whom we call Mummy — was once a highly social person who always had to stay busy.  Cooking and baking were her passions, and so were endless games of cards with family and friends.

However, those days are long past.

As the disease progressed, Mummy’s personality and abilities changed.  Much of what defined her as a person has simply disappeared.  Now, my sisters and I struggle to find activities to engage Mummy, something that brings a purpose into her life.

I’d read about baby doll therapy and Alzheimer’s disease.  When my mom’s friend died recently, that left an empty space at the table for meals and an empty place in Mummy’s life.  Was this the right time to try some doll therapy?

I went online to do some research.  The thought is to slowly introduce a life-like baby doll into the Alzheimer’s person’s world.  Some sites suggest leaving the doll in a neutral location and have the person discover it for him or herself, although I’m not convinced this is always necessary.  Once introduced, many Alzheimer’s people, especially women, but some men as well, will enjoy rocking and cuddling the doll and may even “adopt” it as their own.

It seemed like baby doll therapy might work.

Doll Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease

baby doll therapy-alzheimer's-dementia, memory loss-aging, dating dementiaAnecdotal research has also shown that doll therapy can sometimes be calming to people who have agitation as a result of the disease.

However, I also read that not every person takes to a therapy doll, and it is best accepted by women (and some men) in the earlier stages of the disease.

Since my mom is probably in the latter stages, I wondered if she could bond with a therapy doll.  Would the doll be a nuisance?  Would she see it as a burden, thereby defeating the whole purpose?  Was this a good idea?

I didn’t know.

What I did know, is that my mom has always loved babies.  With that in mind, I went online and ordered a moderately priced doll and a few accessories.

A week later, the doll had arrived, and I had to admit she was cute and cuddly.

When I handed mom the therapy doll, I was casual.  Making a big production might be overwhelming and lead her to reject it.  However, from the minute she saw the doll, I could tell she was captivated.  The look on mom’s face was one of nostalgia and love.

With watery eyes and a sweet smile, Mummy looked up at me and said, “Well, I’ll be darned.”

It was a tender moment.

Comfort for Those Living With Alzheimer’s

baby doll therapy-Alzheimer's-aging-dementiaSince then, Mummy and her doll (pictured left) have become nearly inseparable.

The baby doesn’t require anything other than love and affection and my mom is giving that in abundance.  Mom will cradle, kiss and hug her doll.  She carefully  wraps and then re-wraps the baby blanket.  She shows the doll to visitors — pointing and saying, “The little girl.”

Mummy and her doll are living and loving in the moment.

Baby Doll, as I call her, has reinforced something I already knew but had never put into words.  The instinct to show affection is strong.  We humans need affection from others and we need to return that love and kindness.  Baby Doll doesn’t require anything from my mom other than affection.

In return, the doll brings comfort.  Comfort to a woman who is nearing the end of her life.  Comfort to an Alzheimer’s person who is almost totally dependent on others to provide for her.  Comfort to a person who deep down is still a mother.

I’m not sure if Mummy realizes Baby Doll is indeed a doll.  I’ve explained it to her, but she ignores me when I bring up the subject.  Does it matter?  Whatever my mom believes, Baby Doll has made a positive impact and has been more successful than I ever imagined.  When I think about it, doll therapy makes perfect sense.

After all, don’t we all need a sweet Baby Doll in our life?

*Photo Purchased from DollarPhoto



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1 carmen October 11, 2015 at 6:43 pm

I have some reborn dolls,that my mom has put together and is trying to sell.

2 Jane Brennick September 27, 2016 at 11:14 am

looking for real life like baby dolls for an advanced dementia resident. Please feel free to call 1-207-289-3448

3 Barbara Larsen June 30, 2015 at 9:59 am

Nice to read that you were able to help your mother. I do doll shows in the New England area for local nursing facilities. I have over 100 dolls – reborn babies and character dolls. They sit and hold the dolls for the hour that I am there – and they are so comforted by just holding them. I was an Activities Director for over 15 years and watched the interaction with the one doll that I had. I absolutely love what I do… it is so rewarding.

4 Nancy Wurtzel June 30, 2015 at 10:49 am

Barbara, thanks for coming to read and for your comment…you are doing wonderful, meaningful work!

5 Jackie December 20, 2014 at 1:58 pm

I have just purchased one for my grandma. I hope she likes it. I will report back. I’m a bit worried it will make her less social at the retirement home though. I will give her it on Christmas. I plan on saying something like, “In celebration of baby Jesus.”

6 Karen Valtin February 28, 2014 at 11:02 pm

Hi Nancy,
I make those lifelike baby dolls but my mother also has Alzheimer’s. When I first starting making these baby dolls, my mother was healthy and as soon as she saw my first one, she just had to have it. Two years later, she was diagnosed with beginning onset Alzheimer’s. She asked me for another doll. My mother lives with my sister who has more ability to take care of her, and her dolls provide a lot of comfort for my mother and my sister(who thinks they are creepy) is actually glad she has them because they do calm her down. I’m so very happy to read your story and to know what I do actually does help more people than I thought. Thank you for that.

7 Shelley C July 13, 2013 at 11:22 am

Great story. My Mom suffered from Alzheimers too. I know they (nursing home) gave her a doll to hold to help calm her down. It worked wonders when she was agitated. I once asked if I could hold herdoll and she wouldn’t let me. (By this time, my Mom was not really talking). She held the doll tight and cradled it. Nice to read something about how a doll can help with Alzheimers.

8 Sandy-Joan Waverly July 2, 2013 at 1:59 am

Wow, interesting. I am an aged carer and while I have heard of it before I have never actually tried it out (for fear of intervening with a clients life – and at times families wishes – too much). This is a beautiful story and I am so glad to read your mother reacted well to it.

9 Marjorie Lewis June 20, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Hi Nancy please contact me @ Marjoriecasting@gmail.com and I’ll send you my phone #. I’m a TV producer and very interested in talking with you. Thanks.

10 Candyce Henry June 16, 2013 at 8:12 pm

An assisted care facility in Phoenix, Arizona, USA , The Beatitudes, started using the baby doll years ago to calm Alzheimer patients. It worked quite effectively for women who had been mothers and cared for children. They also employed other techniques such as a piece of chocolate at bed time which was very soothing and comforting in lieu of a drug. Initially, the various techniques were met with ridicule since they were not the accepted practices at the time.

11 Nancy Wurtzel June 16, 2013 at 8:59 pm

I think they are finally realizing in dementia care that the simple things work well. Try those first before all of the drugs.

12 Joyce Li June 8, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Hi Nancy, this is sweet and courageous of you to try new things for Mummy. Your article is insightful for caregivers. As the prevalence of dementia is about 1 in 10 for the elderly population, we need ideas and tools to help brighten their days. Thank you for sharing your experience.

13 Nancy Wurtzel June 8, 2013 at 8:18 pm

Many thanks, Joyce!

14 Marilyn Suttle June 6, 2013 at 8:25 am

So inspiring. You found a simple way to give your mom access to the feelings of tender loving care everyday.

15 Nancy Wurtzel June 6, 2013 at 9:16 am

Marilyn, thank you so much for your comment and for coming to read.

16 Cynthia Meents June 5, 2013 at 11:14 pm

How beautiful. I might need a baby doll right now. You’re right; once a mother, always a mother. I can imagine how comforting having that baby must be.

17 Nancy Wurtzel June 5, 2013 at 11:25 pm

Thanks so much Cynthia!

18 Nadine Feldman June 5, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Oh, Nancy, what a beautiful gift! You gave your mother something so precious and tender. *wipes away tears*

19 Nancy Wurtzel June 5, 2013 at 9:54 pm

You are so sweet…thank you!

20 Christine Somers June 5, 2013 at 3:43 pm

As a hospice volunteer, I have spent a good deal of time in nursing homes. One women who no longer connected with anyone was given a baby doll. Like your mother, this women cuddled and cared for her baby doll all her waking hours. The only time she interacted with others was when she was showing them her “baby”. Your mother is blessed to have you as daughter; it is a gift you are giving as you make all her days as good as they can be.

21 Nancy Wurtzel June 5, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Hi Christine, Thanks very much for sharing your own journey. Come back again to read!

22 Marie Geraghty June 5, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Thank you for your interesting insight. I saw a link from the Pioneer Press regarding Alzheimers and decided to check it out.
I will follow you from now on!

23 Nancy Wurtzel June 5, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Awesome! Thank you so much for coming to read and for following me!

24 Linda Landers June 5, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Wow — this gives me goosebumps! I’m so happy that she bonded with the doll — what a fabulous idea! This therapy is so beautiful in it’s simplicity. I hope she has many joyous days with her baby doll. So happy you found something to give her some happiness.

25 Nancy Wurtzel June 5, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Thanks so much, Linda. What a lovely comment…

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