Monday, January 14, 2019

Dementia Doll Therapy and Caregivers (Research, Video 3:05)

“Does this baby have a heartbeat?”

I have served several years as a hospice volunteer in Detroit, MI nursing homes where I have interacted with many residents who had dementia. They often needed various stimuli to become engaged in approaches that were more likely to be successful with them from a person-centered perspective. Doll therapy was often successful. This excerpt from my book Becoming Dead Right is an example :

“What’s your baby’s name?” I asked while exploring the reality of a hospice resident who had dementia. Susan, who was the resident, and her doll stared at each other, grinning as if they knew secrets from ancient times. And maybe they did. She looked at me, pointed to her doll and said, “She’ll tell you her name when you come back with cookies.” (Very clever baby!)

Doll therapy research focused on reducing behavioral and psychological

symptoms of dementia has increased in clinical practice. The aim of the research discussed in this post was to measure the impact of doll therapy on people with severe dementia and the related distress and impact on everyday behavior of formal caregivers. Twenty-nine nursing home residents aged from 76 to 96 years old and who had severe dementia (Alzheimer's or vascular dementia), took part in the experiment. They were randomly assigned to an experimental group that used dolls or an active control group that used hand warmers with sensory characteristics equivalent to the dolls. Effects of doll therapy on caregivers’ everyday abilities such as eating behavior were also examined. 

This research concluded that only the doll therapy group showed a reduction in behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia scores and related caregiver distress. Doll therapy did not benefit eating behavior of caregivers, however. 

As a hospice volunteer, I observed how easily many residents with dementia enjoyed their close relationships with dolls and stuffed or robotic animals. In this video, a caregiving daughter does doll therapy with her mother who is past middle stage dementia. I found this video particularly interesting because, unlike many residents I have observed, this mother seems to know her doll is not a real baby. But she still enjoys nurturing the doll. She also continues to question if the doll really isn't real. The daughter wonders if the doll therapy is truly appropriate for her mother. This video shares the mother’s response. (Do you remember playing with dolls as if they were real when you knew they weren’t? I do. )

If you liked the video above, you'll appreciate this one with a man enjoying his pet therapy cat:

Frances Shani Parker, Author 
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers. 

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