Monday 15 July 2013

Dementia and Doll Therapy - Mum and her new doll

This small insight is based on my own experience helping my Mum, who has vascular dementia.

Mum has had cuddly toys for many years, for the most part, they were generally consigned to a shelf in her wardrobe. However, since being diagnosed with vascular dementia, such toys have played a more important role in her life.

The importance of these toys became very apparent during her most recent stay in hospital. I took her a number of toys just after she was first admitted, her face lit up when she saw them. They stayed with her, throughout her three week stay, and became her little companions. She would hold and cuddle them, kiss them, and talk to them.

Her favourite, of all things, was a small splash ball, in the shape of a pink and yellow octopus, complete with stumpy tentacles and a very stylised smiley face. “Ollie” as he was known, was her “little friend”. To Mum, he was small and vulnerable, and would often “disappear”, either somewhere in her bed, or occasionally on the floor. Virtually every visit began with a search for “Ollie”, accompanied by calls of “Ollie! Ollie! Where are you Ollie?”.

When found, and given back to Mum, she would kiss him and talk to him.


After Mum returned home, now predominantly bed-bound, I acquired further toys, using them as experiments, to see how Mum would react. “Ollie”, however, has remained a firm favourite.

I tried a variety of cuddly toys, and whilst these were accepted, they didn't quite attract the same attention as “Ollie”. I then tried a couple of highly stylised soft baby dolls. These worked well, and along with “Ollie”, became favourites. As did a small, again highly stylised dog in a bag. These became her babies!

These toys all worked well, until just a few days ago, whilst shopping in my local supermarket, I spotted another, very realistic, baby doll. This particular doll is from JC Toys, and designed by Salvador Berenguer. As soon as Mum saw this doll, that was it! Her full nurturing instinct came to the fore. This doll, as far as she was concerned, was a “real” baby. A baby to be loved, to be protected, to be nurtured.

Mum, Charlie and Ollie

Mum has only had the “baby” for a couple of days, and it has already made a difference. She cradles it, talks to it, and gives it kisses and cuddles. Last night, she even, quite unsuccessfully, tried to feed it some of her ice cream!

It's early days yet, but this new “baby” certainly seems to be working. Mum is thinking about possible names, and has already suggested that she might name him “Charlie” after my late Dad.

“Charlie” came with very little clothing, as he was packaged as a “bath doll”, needless to say, clothing has now been ordered. In the meantime, he is wearing an all in one bodysuit, designed for tiny babies. It's a little large for a 14” doll, but will suffice for the time being.

I'll be posting more on this subject, as I find out more about the way Mum interacts with “Charlie”, and how he is helping her live with dementia.

As I finish this post, “Charlie” is with Mum, cradled in her right arm.


  1. This is lovely. I've seen a number of people who have adored their babies whilst managing dementia symptoms.

    1. Thanks Jennifer, the doll really does help when Mum gets agitated or distressed. The calming effects it has, are sometimes quite amazing.

  2. I have hit upon this idea with my own Mum, she is presently in hospital with a urine infection which has effected her and she is so confused. She was very frightened of being left on her own in the hospital, she was frightened of the dark and she was really fretting. So my daughter and I gave her one of my daughters soft dolls and a sleeping beauty torch. We told her that the doll would look after her and she would need to look after her to make sure her grand daughter got her back. This has worked they are familiar items in a sea of unfamiliar experiences.

    1. Thanks Lizzy. I started Mum with dolls in exactly the same situation. Mum was in hospital with a urine infection, along with the associated confusion it creates. The cuddly toys she had to start with really helped. The confusion, along with an unfamiliar place and all the hustle and bustle can cause quite a lot of distress.

  3. It is now four months since Mum first got Charlie, and she still loves him just as much as she did when she first got him. He is her little companion. She loves him, holds him, talks to him, and kisses him. All in all, a great success!

  4. Some of the actions with a doll are reverting back to having a child The adult will as you state cuddle kiss and nurture as they did years ago with their baby Cuddly toys are often stroked another action which calms and relaxes
    Those suffering dementia have periods of loneliness especially as you state if in hospital where familiar faces and sights and sounds are absent A toy gives stability Children's DVD s also often bring enjoy enjoyment Telly Tubbies being one
    I always teach dignity for everyone and would never refer to or treat another as a child but somewhere in the dementia fog there is reversion to younger and healthy times If these pleasures ease the distress they are well worth trying

    1. I agree, and as you say, even though we observe some "child-like" behaviours, we must still always respect those living with dementia (I prefer that than referring to them as sufferers) as the adults they are, and respect and treat them as such.