Dolls Help Patients with AD Cope

September 1, 2006

Dolls and other toys, such as teddy bears, can alleviate agitation, reduce withdrawal, help overcome communication challenges, and generally improve the quality of life of patients with Alzheimer disease (AD).

Dolls and other toys, such as teddy bears, can alleviate agitation, reduce withdrawal, help overcome communication challenges, and generally improve the quality of life of patients with Alzheimer disease (AD), noted Ian James, PhD, MSc, head of Challenging Behaviour Service and consultant clinical psychologist at Newcastle General Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. After observing improvements in a patient who was given a teddy bear by her son, a team from Newcastle General Hospital undertook a series of studies on the use of toys in dementia care settings. In one study, residents were allowed to choose either a doll or teddy bear. Fourteen of the 30 nursing home residents, mainly women, chose to use a toy. Their progress was monitored over a 12-week period.

In a presentation at the National PSIGE Conference 2006, which took place July 5 to 7 at the University of Sussex in Brighton, James explained that according to anecdotal research, toys ameliorate behavior disturbances in persons with dementia. The research he and colleagues have conducted over the past 2 years has investigated the phenomenon empirically. Their findings suggest that doll use results in better interaction with staff and other nursing home residents, better communication, less agitation, and better quality of life, reported James. The dolls and teddies also were useful in reminiscence therapy in which patients are encouraged to recall earlier, rewarding life roles, such as parenting.

The researchers believe that providing dolls or other appropriate toys for select patients with AD may be a useful, nonpharmacologic way to assist these patients. The team is now following about 50 patients who have been given dolls or teddies. The study findings appear in the July issue of Age and Ageing. The citation is Mackenzie L, James IA, Morse R, et al. A pilot study on the use of dolls for people with dementia. Age Ageing. 2006;35:441-444.