Therapeutic Interventions for People Living with Dementia

Doll therapy

Using dolls, or what can sometimes be referred to as ‘child representation’, can provide people with dementia an opportunity to interact with a ‘life-like’ baby doll in a manner that may be therapeutic to them.

Why use dolls?

Dolls may provide an opportunity for the person with dementia to express their feelings and emotions. The person gets to interact with and talk about the doll in a meaningful way. People with dementia may feel a sense of validation, role and purpose by taking care of the baby doll.

It may allow people with dementia to reminisce about when they had young children of their own. The tactile and sensory experience provided by the doll may bring a sense of comfort and security. Dolls have often been used as an alternative to medication to reduce the impact of behaviours or unmet needs, such as:

• Social withdrawal

• Apathy

• Vocalising

• Aggressive behaviour

• Restlessness

• Wandering and Intrusion

Who is most likely to benefit?

Both men and women can respond to this engagement, depending upon their level of interest.

• Moderate to severe dementia or a mixed dementia, who are more likely to perceive the doll as being a baby.

• Earlier stages of dementia: They may like to look at the doll or enjoy holding or dressing it but they are less likely to perceive it as real.

• Those who have reverted to past life memories of parenthood, for example people who may be having delusions or hallucinations about their baby crying or frequently looking for their baby.

• Have previously enjoyed being around children or babies.

Animal therapy

Using robotic or plush animals, or what can sometimes be referred to as “simulated pets”, can provide an opportunity for people living with dementia to interact with a “lifelike” animal that may bring therapeutic benefits. The most commonly used are dogs and cats.

Why use simulated pets?

The tactile and sensory experiences provided by simulated pets may bring a sense of comfort and security to a person in distress by encouraging them to focus on a pleasant experience or memory. It may provide an opportunity for a person to ‘look after’ the animal and help with building/maintaining a sense of purpose and self-esteem.

It may encourage people with dementia to reminisce about animals they once owned or talk about pets they still own thus providing a talking point for others close to the person to encourage conversation, and help to build a rapport and a relationship if meeting them for the first time.

If used creatively, simulated pets may be able to encourage a person living with dementia to eat, sleep better or partake in physical exercise. They may also help to bring a sense of routine and meaningful engagement that links to previous routines and habits.

Simulated pets have often been used as an alternative to medication to reduce the impact of behaviours and psychological symptoms of dementia, and such unmet needs as:

• Agitation

• Walking that is perceived as “restless or intrusive”

• Lack of meaningful stimulation/occupation

• Loneliness / social isolation

• Reduced sleep and appetite

• Underlying pain

Who is likely to benefit?

Depending on their level of interest, the following people are most likely to benefit from simulated pets:

• who have always owned pets and animals throughout their life and those that may have fond childhood memories of owning pets

• who frequently explore their environment and may engage in seeking out a pet

• who have perceive the simulated pet as a real animal and those who may enjoy the novelty aspect of it.

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