06/11/2013 08:33 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Bringing Comfort: Alzheimer's Sufferers And Baby Doll Therapy

Those of us who are Alzheimer's caregivers are used to seeing our loved one's abilities ebb away. My mom -- whom we often call Mummy -- was once a highly social person who always had to stay busy. Cooking and baking were her passions, and so were endless games of cards with family and friends.

However, those days are long past.

As the disease progressed, Mummy's personality and abilities changed. Much of what defined her as a person has simply disappeared. Now, my sisters and I struggle to find activities to engage Mummy, something that brings a purpose into her life.

I'd read about doll therapy for those with Alzheimer's disease. When my mom's friend died recently, that left an empty space at the table for meals and an empty place in Mummy's life. Was this the right time to try some doll therapy?

I went online to do some research. The thought is to slowly introduce a life-like baby doll into the Alzheimer's person's world. Some sites suggest leaving the doll in a neutral location and have the person discover it for him or herself, although I'm not convinced this is always necessary. Once introduced, many Alzheimer's sufferers -- especially women, but some men as well -- will enjoy rocking and cuddling the doll and may even "adopt" it as their own.

Anecdotal research has also shown that doll therapy can sometimes be calming to people who have agitation as a result of the disease.

However, I also read that not every person takes to a therapy doll, and it is best accepted by women (and some men) in the earlier stages of the disease.

Since my mom is probably in the latter stages, I wondered if she could bond with a therapy doll. Would the doll be a nuisance? Would she see it as a burden, thereby defeating the whole purpose? Was this a good idea?

I didn't know.

What I did know, is that my mom has always loved babies. With that in mind, I went online and ordered a moderately-priced doll and a few accessories.

A week later, the doll had arrived, and I had to admit she was cute and cuddly.

When I handed mom the therapy doll, I was casual. Making a big production might be overwhelming and lead her to reject it. However, from the minute she saw the doll, I could tell she was captivated. The look mom's face was one of nostalgia and love.

With watery eyes and a sweet smile, Mummy looked up at me and said, "Well, I'll be darned."

It was a tender moment.


Since then, Mummy and her doll have become nearly inseparable. The baby doesn't require anything other than affection and my mom is giving that in abundance. Mom coddles, kisses and hugs the doll. She carefully wraps and then re-wraps the baby blanket. She shows the doll to visitors -- pointing and saying, "The little girl."

Mummy and her doll are living and loving in the moment.

Baby Doll, as I call her, has reinforced something I already knew but had never put into words. The instinct to show affection is strong. We humans need love and kindness and we need to give it in return.

And, Baby Doll brings comfort. Comfort to a woman who is nearing the end of her life. Comfort to an Alzheimer's person who is almost totally dependent on others to provide for her. Comfort to a person who deep down is still a mother.

I'm not sure if Mummy realizes Baby Doll is indeed a doll. I've explained it to her, but she ignores me when I bring up the subject. Does it matter? Whatever my mom believes, Baby Doll has made a positive impact and has been more successful than I ever imagined. When I think about it, doll therapy makes perfect sense.

After all, don't we all need a sweet Baby Doll in our life?

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