Doll Therapy for Dementia ~ Kayla Baby Doll Review
Product: Kayla the Comfort Baby Doll
Price: $119.99 + $4.99 shipping US
Cheapest Place to Buy: Amazon.com
Size: 18″ /45.7 cm length and weight of average newborn
Guarantee: Free return for 120 days
My Rating: 10 out of 10
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Comfort Dementia Doll – Product Overview
Kayla is a realistic comfort therapy doll designed specifically for people with dementia. As you can see, Kayla has a beautiful, sweet face. Her smooth head, arms and legs are crafted in RealTouch® vinyl. Both body and head are weighted, making Kayla feel like a newborn in your arms. Kayla’s hand-rooted hair is fine and soft.
Kayla comes to you smelling of faint baby powder in a pink sleeper and cap. Also, included is a Certificate of Authenticity. Proceeds from each sale of Kayla are donated to support Alzheimer’s research.
In my role as memory care director, I am often asked for my opinion on doll therapy for people with dementia. The question generally comes from a concerned family member who wants to do what is best for their loved one, but does not really understand the reasons for using doll therapy. The very idea of an adult (their spouse or parent or friend) holding and caring for a baby doll makes them feel very uncomfortable.
I get it. There is controversy surrounding doll therapy for adults with dementia: Some people believe the practice to be demeaning, infantile and or unacceptable for intelligent, educated, mature adults. While others view it as a simple and kind way to provide individuals with a sense of attachment and or responsibility in times of agitation, aggression, distress, sadness, or loneliness.
How to Introduce Doll Therapy
The key to appropriate doll therapy is to introduce a doll to the person with dementia in a very dignified and respectful way rather than using it as a child’s toy or real infant.
There are several trains of thought on how to use a doll as well. Some prefer telling individuals with dementia that the doll is a baby because giving a doll to a grown up is offensive or uncomfortable.
In my 40 years of working with older adults in nursing home, assisted living, adult day care, and private care settings, I have learned to follow the cues of the person I’m working with.
Approach the person and ask if they would be willing to help you. Tell them you need someone to hold the baby doll while you are busy elsewhere (nearby). Allow the individual time to respond. If they are unable to verbalize, look for facial or body clues such as eyes on doll, hands reaching out, a smile, or perhaps a nod that lets you know they are willing to help.
On the other hand, you may see a frown or the person looking away or a disgusted expression. So read the cues they give correctly. Just putting a doll in a person’s arms or on a lap without their permission or an explanation from you will probably backfire; and it’s not appropriate or respectful.
A big part of doll therapy is talking about and acknowledging the individual’s feelings and his or her ability to accept your request for help.
So communicate your ideas. Ask for the person’s expertise in holding a doll or how to dress it or what to name it. Engage them in conversation as you hold the doll. Give encouraging words and smiles. Tell them “thank you” for helping.
It’s important to understand that dolls are dolls, not babies. And despite declines in memory, speech, perception, and physical abilities, adults with dementia are still adults. Showing respect to meet the person where they are is vital.
Take your cues from the individual–allow them to call it ‘doll’ or ‘baby’ or ‘Suzy Q’ or whatever. Some individuals will see the doll as a baby right off. Either way–doll or baby–don’t argue. His or her reality is real to him or her.
Doll Therapy in Aged Care Up Close
One of the sweetest memories I have ever had with doll therapy involved a man near the end of his life. He was visibly uncomfortable; his pain medication had not yet taken effect. I knew how much he adored children from the info in his chart and the several grandchildren who visited often. His face would light up and he’d tell anyone around “I just love them!” and “Those are mine!”
To take his mind off the pain, I asked if he would like to see my baby doll. Tears welled in his eyes as he asked to hold it. He began telling me of a time many years earlier when he was a young father. He said he loved to hold and hug and kiss his babies. He knew this was a doll and never called it baby. But to him, holding the doll for a time eased his discomfort; his mind went back to sweet and tender memories of the past.
Remember: Don’t ever try to persuade or force someone to accept a doll. Refusal is absolutely fine. Find another strategy to reduce stress and agitation. One-size does not fit all when it comes to dementia therapies.
Whether an individual is living at home or resides in a facility, doll therapy can provide the following benefits:
- Reminder of wonderful years past, when providing care to one’s own children;
- Help Increase sense of purpose–feeling needed and productive;
- Bring structure into daily routine;
- Provide sense of responsibility again;
- Initiate speech in a person who is not verbalizing any more;
- End feelings of boredom or uselessness;
- Calm feelings of anger, fear, loneliness, agitation, or depression;
- Serve as an attention-getter;
- Create a positive distraction from a potential harmful or dangerous event;
- Be a tool for social interaction;
- Reestablish nurturing feelings;
- Provide hours of hugs, smiles, laughter, and feelings of love;
- Reduce wandering or other repetitive behaviors;
- Decrease antipsychotic medications and or dosage.
I absolutely love Kayla for several reasons:
- She’s lifelike: So many other dolls look and feel like dolls for children–they are fake and not appropriate for adults. I believe this is where the “infantile and demeaning” comes in. If I saw my own mom with an obvious kid’s toy doll, I’d be upset too. Kayla has soft, smooth skin, and weighted body and head that require support. She is an APPROPRIATE dementia therapy doll. She wears real newborn clothes–and I strongly suggest purchasing additional outfits, blankets, and accessories for Kayla so activities such as changing, sorting, folding, hanging up, and putting away might also be enjoyed.
- Kayla is a great investment: She is well-made, sturdy and easy to keep clean. The cost is affordable and worth the benefits I personally witness every single day in my work. To date, I have purchased 3 Kayla dolls for the residents in my memory care community. They love Kayla–she feels right in their arms–and she isn’t viewed as a play thing. As a result of doll therapy, my residents and I have reminisced about numerous topics, including pregnancy, choosing baby names, Christening, preparing bottles, doing laundry, folding and ironing clothes, cooking meals, teaching children to walk, talk, and ride a bike, sending children to school, Christmas traditions, family reunions, birthday parties, family vacations, nursery rhymes, children’s songs, favorite children’s pets, siblings, parenting philosophies… and on and on. Keeping minds sharp enhances quality of life. And the memories of nurturing children are some of the best memories for many women and men.
- Doll Therapy, when done correctly, produces positive results in many individuals with dementia. As a caregiver and manager of caregivers, I believe in using doll therapy as part of a daily routine. People with dementia require routine. Routine can provide sense of belonging, grounding, purpose, and reduce negative behaviors and feelings. Doll therapy provides the perfect way to tell a person “I need your help, I respect your experience and wisdom, I value you as a person and a friend, and I need you!”
Bottom Line: If you are seriously considering doll therapy, Kayla is an excellent choice!
Please leave your comments, questions and experiences below; I would love to hear your feelins and stories.
All my best,
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Bisiani, L. & Angus, J. (2012) Doll therapy: a therapeutic means to meet past attachment needs and diminish behaviours of concern in a person living with dementia – a case study approach. Dementia 12(4) 447-462. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.1008.3577&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Gorman, A. (2016) Doll therapy may help calm people with dementia, but it has critics. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/10/03/495655678/doll-therapy-may-help-calm-people-with-dementia-but-it-has-critics
Turner, F. & Shepher, M. (2014). Doll therapy in dementia care: a review of current literature. Communicare 1 (1) https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c4c7/cb732534a525f8ccb1a1d8cbdaf008e10fa7.pdf