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Dolls and Alzheimer’s Disease

As humans we have the instinct to nurture. We want to show affection, to give love, and to receive love. That need doesn’t go away, even as memories deteriorate with dementia. Here is an opportunity to try something that might help your loved one with Alzheimer’s --buy him or her a baby doll.

According to several studies, men and women in the middle to later stages of Alzheimer’s disease found that therapy dolls provided comfort and companionship. These adults with Alzheimer’s received the benefits of sensory stimulation and purposeful activity from the dolls. Their behavior improved, including a reduction in aggression and agitation.

You can purchase a lifelike therapy doll or teddy bear. Be sure to find a lifelike, soft doll, not a plastic toy doll from a discount store. Therapy dolls can be found online at stores such as the Alzheimer’s Store ( and Best Alzheimer’s Products (

It is best not to give the doll as a gift, in case it upsets your loved one. Accepting the doll should be your loved one’s choice. Leave it out in the living room, or a common area, for your loved one to discover.

People with Alzheimer’s disease tend to forget recent memories first, so taking care of a doll will bring back old memories of raising their own children — taking them back to a happy time in their lives.

You may want to explain to your family and friends about how the doll is helping your loved one, so they won’t be confused when they see your loved one taking care of a baby doll. Dolls can provide activities and opportunities for social interaction. Rocking a doll to sleep may in fact help your loved one get to sleep. Putting clothes on the doll and pushing it in a stroller can also be enjoyable. This can be an activity your loved one can share with grandchildren.

Doll therapy is not for everyone. Some individuals with Alzheimer’s disease become too attached to the doll and experience anxiety if the doll is misplaced. Others can become so involved in caring for their doll that it becomes a stressful chore for them.

As before making any change in your loved one’s care, talk to your loved one’s doctor and care team before introducing a therapy doll.

Resources: Nursing Times and Carefect, Inc.