Posts Tagged ‘toy

Infantilization or Therapeutic Use?

One day I was walking through a 24-hour Personal Care Home (PCH), and I saw an elderly woman sitting in a common room with a doll in her arms.  She looked very contented, and smiled at me.  My gut feeling was that this just didn’t sit right with me.  Seeing an older adult with a “toy” seemed undignified.  I had heard about someone else’s mother using a doll, but I just never thought much of it.  When I witnessed this, it just didn’t look right.

I posed the question to a group of experts and PCH staff who were attending a learning session, and I learned  a few things.  When working with older adults with dementia, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

1.  It is not okay to “infantilize” our older adult residents.  We must not treat them like children.

2.  It is okay to use a doll for therapeutic use.  This also covers stuffed animals and the like.  Some older adults find that holding something, or caring for something, makes them feel calm and gives them a purpose (“looking after” something).

I heard two stories that stood out.  One, a woman who had lost a child in her younger years had reverted back to that time.  She felt much more contented with the doll in her arms.  At one point, she handed the doll back to the nurse and told her, “My baby is dead.  Can you deal with this?”.

Another story was about a resident who carried around a doll and she took this doll with her when the staff were giving her a bath.  She used this doll as a weapon and hit the staff with it.

When one woman had a doll in her arms, the other residents treated her more kindly, because they saw she had a “baby”.  One of the residents who had a tendency to strike out, didn’t strike her when she had the doll in her arms.

When one woman started dragging the doll around by the hair, staff knew that this doll was not providing any therapeutic use.

The key is, that each situation involving dolls has to be resident-focussed, and individualized.  It’s not for everyone. Family has to be on board.  My own personal feelings about this (ethical or otherwise) are best addressed by understanding these situations better.  The doll is not going to be used for the long-term, most likely for a short while.

Don’t forget to wash the doll.  It will get soiled and will need it’s clothes washed too.  Also, it’s better to call the doll a doll, not a “baby”.

Discuss with your Team if a doll could provide any kind of therapeutic use.  I’m still not 100% convinced that this is a good thing.  Let me know your thoughts.

Here’s a link to an article and a picture of a senior woman playing with a doll:


Angela Gentile

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