Doll Therapy and Dementia

Updated: Apr 5


Memory-care unit resident, Laura Weber, meets her new baby for the first time.

By: Ashley Strehl - Managing Editor of Digital and Print Publications


Since the first diagnoses in 1906, scientists, psychologists, and healthcare professionals have made major strides in the study and treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.


There are numerous methods of non-medication therapy that are utilized to treat dementia and Alzheimer’s, such as art, music, and animal therapy. However, doll therapy, is another one of those methods that is surprisingly unconventional and effective in aspects that other forms of therapy do not cover.


The Truth about Alzheimer’s and Dementia


The 2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report by the Alzheimer's Association found that 48% percent of nursing home residents across the nation are living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. An article by CDC.gov states that Alzheimer’s is the most usual form of dementia, which is a general term for a decline in mental ability that is severe enough to interfere with daily life.


Memory-care unit resident of Oak Hills Care Center, Pamela Brown, is ecstatic about the unit's new interactive kitty.

Symptoms during the preliminary stages of Alzheimer’s include, slowed thinking and trouble remembering certain things. However, as the disease spreads throughout the brain, sufferers can experience disorientation, changes in mood and behavior, and trouble communicating. “The inability to communicate properly is one of the more frustrating symptoms for the residents and caregivers,” Oak Hills Care Center’s memory-care unit LPN, Susie Merrell, said. “They don’t always realize that what they are saying isn't clear.”


Other more serious symptoms include deepening confusion about events, time, and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends, and caregivers; intense memory loss, and difficulty speaking, swallowing, and walking. “You have to try and keep an eye on them at all times,” Merrell said. “They can be fine one second, but completely different the next. They need a lot of love and attention.”



More than an estimated 5 million Americans are currently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and by 2060, the numbers are projected to nearly triple, affecting more than 14 million Americans aged 65 and over.

Psych unit resident, Olivia Eason meets her new baby and names her Seana after Oak Hills Administrator, Seana Sutterfield.

Long-term care organizations like Voyage Long Term Care are trying to beat those odds by trying to find innovative therapy methods outside of medication that can help their memory-inhibited residents feel more happy, safe, and calm. “Medications can pile on over time with dementia patients,” Merrell said. “It’s like, they start taking one thing, and then they need something else, and so on and so forth. After a while, they can cause the residents to be further from themselves than they already were. So, doll therapy could definitely be a healthier alternative to help with the symptoms.”


The Positive Effects of Doll Therapy in Long-Term Care


The most common form of doll therapy is done through lifelike baby dolls, such as Reborn Dolls. However, anything that individuals can cuddle and interact with can have major positive effects on sufferers with Alzheimer’s and dementia.


Reports show that doll therapy can aid in a residents need for a sense of purpose and decreases the harmful symptoms of dementia. Hugging, and cuddling therapy dolls can decrease stress. Dolls can also help bring back memories to those who are mothers, fathers, or pet owners, and they can decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation.


Memory-care unit resident at Oak Hills, Bradley Rich, lights up at the sight of the new interactive dog they names Spot.

Voyage LTC has begun the implementation of doll therapy methods with their residents by donating 3 baby dolls, one interactive dog, and one interactive cat to the residents of the memory-care and psych units at Oak Hills Care Center in Jones. “They’ve been taking good care of them,” Merrell said. “I can tell that one of our residents, Miss Linda Weber, loves her baby so much, and tries her best to keep her safe in her room.”



Brenda Ryan, resident of Oak Hills, is excited to meet her new baby.

CEO, Brad Underwood, and the Voyage Long Term Care team are making future plans to donate more therapy dolls to more memory-care residents across all communities at Skyview Nursing Center, Edmond Health Care Center, and Oak Hills Care Center. “I think the baby and animal dolls will be beneficial by filling that emotional void where family cannot," Merrell said. "They will always be there to keep residents distracted, and give them something to love on, and I am excited about the opportunity for more."