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Therapy Dolls and Alzheimer's

 June Therapy Doll

 

The "June" Therapy Doll

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Doll therapy in treatment of Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases is simply the use of lifelike dolls as stress, anxiety and agitation relievers.

A case study of such therapy examined the effect on an individual with mid to late stage Alzheimer’s…it was found that the use of a therapeutic doll resulted in a decrease in challenging behaviors and levels of anxiety and agitation. Improvement was also noted in communication and levels of interaction with others.

The Research

The British Journal of Nursing  published a review of the use of such dolls for therapy with people having dementia. They acknowledged that there are some concerns by family relating to a possible demeaning effect from the use of such dolls. The report however concludes that there are numerous anecdotal evidences of the benefits of doll therapy. It also points out that although there may be a lack of multiple scientifically replicated studies on the use of dolls, doll therapy has shown positive effects for people with dementia type diseases without the use of medications.

Research involving doll therapy for Alzheimer’s disease has been carried out at Newcastle General Hospital in the UK and in care facilities in the area of Newcastle. Clinical Psychologist Ian James and nursing specialist Lorna Mackenzie, with others, reported significant improvement in the behavior of nursing home residents with dementia when dolls were introduced to the residents as a choice.

Various studies done by this group, all observing the effect of baby doll therapy on people with dementia, all reached similar conclusions. The most recent, Using dolls to alter behavior in patients with dementia, and reported in the Nursing Times Vol: 103, issue 5, pages: 36-37.

The results of the study provide support for the hypotheses that after the introduction of dolls, doll-users showed an increase in positive behaviour and a decrease in negative behaviour and incidents of aggression compared with before the dolls were introduced. These results support previous attitudinal studies, which have reported doll therapy to be an effective approach in reducing negative and challenging behaviours, and promoting more positive behaviours and mood.

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A short time ago I had the opportunity to personally examine and handle one of such therapy dolls while visiting the Benedictine Nursing Home at Innsbruck. (June’s home during the last 2.5 years of her life.)…I was very impressed with the lifelike appearance of the doll and even though I knew it was a doll, I felt automatically compelled to treat it with the care one would accord to a real human baby…the details of the features were so carefully crafted as to appear lifelike in every way.

As a result of that experience, and acting as June’s earthly representative, I decided to purchase one of the dolls in June’s behalf as a gift to the Alzheimer’s Villa to be used for therapy purposes with and for the residents. I requested the therapy doll have the name of “June”.

When the June therapy doll arrived, I held it and closely examined it…again I had the feeling of holding a real live baby…I was very much impressed…the June doll came with a name certificate suitable for framing and all the normal accessories including a pacifier…each doll comes with a colorful beaded wrist bracelet with the doll's name such as "June" in lettered beads...This beaded name bracelet with "June" in beads can be seen on the left arm in the photo at the top of this page...I hope this “June” therapy doll proves to be the source of much comfort and peace to the residents of the Alzheimer’s Villa…

The June doll will be one of 6 such dolls available to residents of the Benedictine Nursing Home...each has it's own name. Each of the dolls is individual in size and features...these are not mass produced identical dolls... each is individually crafted!...as such they are expensive but in my opinion, worth the cost!

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 Stan and June Doll 

Stan examining the newly crafted "June" therapy doll 

 

Close up of June Doll facial features

Close up of the "June" therapy doll facial features

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Here is a link to the company that manufactured the therapy doll described in this story of Therapy Dolls and the June connection. The life like dolls are all crafted at the Loving Hearts Nursery in Minnesota. They refer to their dolls as "Serenity" dolls.

 The Loving Hearts Nursery

 

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Doll Therapy at the Benedictine

Dine Puchtell

Diane Puchtel, the Social Activities Director for the Benedictine Health Care Center at Innsbruck has carefully prepared a detailed set of instructions for the staff of the Benedictine. These instructions are intended to assist the nurses and the nursing assistants as well as other staff in properly utilizing the “Therapy Dolls” to the best advantage in promoting the comfort and well being of the residents. The dolls are intended to be used in both the Alzheimer’s Villa and the other residential neighborhoods of the Benedictine Nursing Home. The “June” doll is however reserved for use in the Alzheimer’s Villa which was June’s home for over 2.5 years. Diane was kind enough to provide me with a copy of her instructions to the staff.

The Benedictine’s 5 part staff outline of instructions cover the following areas:

1. What is a Therapy Doll, 2. Guidelines for Doll Therapy, 3. Some Precautions, 4. The Introduction of the Doll and  5. Cleaning the Doll.

Diane defines the doll as to be used as “comfort, diversion, or used in an integrative therapy program as an alternative to giving residents psychotropic medications”

Note: I heartily agree with the goal of replacing the use of “Psychotropic” medications. (These are drugs active on the central nervous system and effecting brain function.)…this broad group of medications includes not only medications used to treat Alzheimer’s but it also includes the groups of medications identified as Antipsychotics and Antidepressants…The FDA has not approved any antipsychotic  drugs or antidepressant drugs for use with elderly dementia type residents. The FDA also requires many such drugs such as antipsychotics to carry what is called a “Black Box Warning” of the risks involved and the increased mortality resulting from such use.

In Diane’s guidelines she stress that for the Doll Therapy to be effective, it is recommended that one “Introduce the doll slowly to the resident and do not leave the doll with the resident for extended periods of time”…if left too long it might cause some residents to feel responsible for the doll and thus add stress for the resident…she recommends when appropriate, letting the doll sit out so the resident can make their own choice to pick it up.

Diane lists a number of precautions: “The nurturing instinct is strong. This is a big part of the reason that doll therapy is effective but it can lead to some problems that should be watched for when introducing the dolls as therapy. In community settings, ownership issues have led to arguments between residents. Anxiety can result from dolls being mislaid. This can usually be minimized by recognizing their potential and by re-directing the residents attention if the problem arises and before it has had a chance to escalate. Family members of residents sometimes see the use of dolls as demeaning. This concern is best addressed through education.

Diane suggests a very specific way of introducing the doll…”Introduce the doll to the resident slowly. Say something like “Hi….would you like to hold….for me? Isn’t she a beautiful baby? Then place the doll in the residents lap. That’s usually all that is needed. You will know shortly if the doll is going to work or not. If the resident becomes agitated, remove the doll immediately. If the resident is enjoying the doll, have them hold the doll for 5-10 minutes then say….is really tired now. Why don’t I lay her down for a nap? Then take the doll away. If the resident wants to hold the doll longer that is fine but monitor them so they don’t get tired or become agitated.”

This well thought out procedure should be successful in introducing and utilizing this rather unique type of therapy…

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Benedictine Therapy Dolls

The Benedictine Therapy Dolls - "June" doll on the left

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Reader’s Comments

Melissa Vaughan – Newburgh, Indiana – (10 September 2014): “I take dolls and small stuffed dogs to the nursing homes...the men seem to love the dogs...from my experiences the dolls and stuffed animals seem to give comfort to the residents.”

Anita Moran  - Wrexham, United Kingdom – (10  September 2014): “Stan these photo's are so heart warming.. and baby June will bring so much comfort. You are a truly…”

Sherrie Penner Terning  - Cokato, Minnesota – (10 September 2014): ”Stan, prior to reading your story I glanced at the two photos of you and the baby. I did think it was a real baby and possibly your new little great (great)? grand daughter named June. She certainly is life like.”

Jennifer Carr  - Taree, New South Wales, Australia – (11 September 2014):  “My mum loved her baby boy doll…Im sure they will love 'June' Stan

Kelly Barnes  - London, United Kingdom – (11 September 2014) : “I think this is brilliant!!”

Mandy Blease  - Kirkby, United Kingdom – (11 September 2014):  “I think this is brilliant… also, my aunt who has Alzheimer’s always talks about babies how she looks after them ect. I wish it was freely available I’m sure it would bring comfort to all.”

Emy Yokoyama De Almeida – Toronto, Ontario, Canada – (11 September 2014): “Doll Therapy is really amazing, but it has to be implemented according to the person's needs. I know of ladies who lost a baby that got very sad when a doll was given to her, even if she had other living children. Also another lady who had worked in the infants and babies care of hospitals also always got anxious and restless because she saw so many sick babies and children, and many died. However most ladies, even gentleman respond positively. I don't believe it is demeaning because they don't see the doll as a toy, but as a real baby who needs to be taken care of. I see the effects of the therapy and often allows us to decrease use of medication, which is great! It is also useful to have a crib or stroller to put the doll in when the person is refusing to let it go for meals or care. They accept better when we show the crib and tell that they will go to sleep. June is beautiful!.”

Joyce Toone  - Bolton, United Kingdom  - (11 September 2014):”We got one of these for my mum.”

Connie Lowers O’Brien  - Decatur, Tennessee  - (11 September 2014): ”Very interesting I use to have a doll shop with the life like dolls.”

Chris Veich Souder  - Portland, Oregon – (11 September 2014): ”She's beautiful Stan and you are a Benedictine Nursing Home… Your purchase is such a kind and generous gesture.” (It is June’s purchase – Stan)

Irene Webb – United Kingdom – (11 September 2014): ”I know when our son died (36) last June and we were arranging the funeral with my DiL at the undertakers my husband was holding our 6 month grandson he was calm and understood what was going on. Feb this year we had to arrange another funeral for our 38 yr old son. We were on our own, he got very confused and agitated and wanted to leave. After we left the office it took me a couple of hours to get him to calm down. He was still very confused for a few days. It took 3 months for him to get over the depression and feeling of loss. I also notice that after he's been with the twins and had a cuddle he is calmer. After he's fed one a bottle they have both had a sleep in the chair together.”

Karen Reece  - LaQuinta, California  - (11 September 2014): “That is a great tribute to June, very thoughtful …”

Sara Horne  - (11 September 2014): ”I work in a home and 2 of my residents have dolls, this theory definitely works! They are so happy when they have them.”

Lynn Hird  - Kingston Upon Hull, United Kingdom – (11 September 2014): “My mum used to talk about her children as though they were babies , even though we are all grown up with children of our own she used to stay I have to get home for my babies. !!!! The home she was in had dolls and extra clothes so you could change them , prams and cots you would often see the residents cuddle the dolls and talking to them.”

Jackie Fleming  - Colchester, Essex, United Kingdom – (11 September 2014): ”This is wonderful ,it works…the lovely lady i care for has a cat- a toy fluffy life like kitten who sleeps with her we are going to buy it a collar today, she adores it and i can see she is calm and content with him.”

Helen Russin  - (11 September 2014): ”That's wonderful! I'm sure beautiful June doll will be loved and a comfort.”

Heather Pearson  - Southhampton,  United Kingdom – (11 September 2014):  TOP STORY!  Friends' News Stanton O. Berg: Posting in Dementia Aware Group: This is such a lovely idea. My feeling is that the 'June ' doll and all others will bring much therapeutic comfort. All best Heather."

Louise Ann Howard - Batemans Bay, New South Wales, Australia – (11 September 2014):  “I think it is wonderful and have seen it in action… worked so so well I approve it.”

Melanie Jean Gardiner  - Sidarion, Kerkira, Greece – (11 September 2014): ”Anything that brings comfort is amazing....lovely Stan.”

Debbie Larson  - Buffalo, Minnesota – (11 September 2014):  “Beautiful Stan, I have seen these dolls at the Watertown Nursing Home and have witnessed the comfort they bring to the ones holding and loving them. Thank you for sharing.”

Teresa Mayo  - Ansonia, Oho – (11 September 2014): “My mom had one too. She really loved it. Talked to it like it was one of her own.”

Sheila Leers Nilsen  - Samish Island, Washington – (11 September 2014):  “Wonderful! Our mom responded really well to this therapy...after having 9 children of her own!”

Sylvia Sharon Ferguson Helton  - Leader, Saskatchewan, Canada – (11 September 2014):  “My Mom wants people around her...but then is uncomfortable when they are near her,...this last Feb she became afraid of dolls ...an would scream in fright when she saw one...things have changed...she now talks with a boy that goes to heaven an visits with my Grandparents...an blames some woman for not doing her job good...as she should of been in heaven months ago...I never know what she will come up with...but it is usually about heaven.”

Theresa Manzardo  - Seattle, Washington – (11 September 2014): “I agree and dolls are wonderful for many in mid to late stage...another easy way to make others smile and happy! Many feel they have a purpose and love to help with the baby's or even happy to have their baby. Your June doll is special...Love it!”

Joanne Thomas  - Camborne, Cornwall, United Kingdom – (11 September 2014): “This is lovely and thank you for letting me know, it may one day help my mum. but I have to say I am struggling with the thought of giving her a doll - it makes me cry.”

Ken Barnes  - Liss, United Kingdom - (11 September 2014): "They are a fantastic idea ... Bring so much pleasure."

Jackie Beck - Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada - (11 September 2014):  "What a nice idea and so life like!"

Paul Thorpe  - Yorkshire, United Kingdom - (11 September 2014):"Iv seen very positive responses to therapeutic dolls and not necessarily life like ones as in this post. however there has to be some caution as some staff can adopt very negative attitudes towards dolls so work often needs doing with them before introducing the doll to residents or clients. also another caution, dolls can have an opposite reaction for instance an older person who may have lost a very young baby or even had a still birth it can be traumatic if they perceive the doll to be real and bring back emotions of grief and loss from many many years ago.. finally once come across a lady who get very distressed when the doll was left on a chair or table, she panicked as she thought the baby was real and she thought it was going to fall off the table and hurt itself ...please be mindful of these potential issues and reactions..." Editorial Note: These concerns are rather well covered in the Benedictine's staff instructions detailed above.

Patrice Kohn  - McKinney, Texas - (30 September 2014): "The June therapy doll will be such a on-going loving gift & blessing to the Residents. What a meaningful gift you & June have made possible. God bless you..."

Mona Glesne  - Fridley, Minnesota - (30 September 2014): "My guess is that this will quickly become on of readers' favorite pages. Babies almost always bring tender feelings. Great job Stan!"

Pam O'Halloran  - Sedona, Arizona - (30 September 2014):"Oh Stan. Of all the things you have done in June's memory, and for sufferers of Alzheimer's, this is my favorite. I love these dolls, and I can understand completely how they will serve to comfort those precious elders. I want one for myself!  If you are familiar with the Eden Alternative - residents in long term care also want to feel needed as opposed to needy. These life like dolls will give them the sense of caring for someone else. Thank you for this gift to them, and for sharing it with us."

Connie Lowers O'Brien  - Decatur, Tennessee - (30 September 2014): "This is a fantastic idea and I happen to love the June doll...We have to have a Stan doll to go with June it's not the same without Stan...That would be so adorable having a June and Stan doll!

John Baker  - Winsford, Cheshire, Unitred Kingdom- (1 October 2014): "Thanks Stan, a very help link."

Diane Clevenger - Cambridge, Ohio - (9 October 2014):  I used this type of doll with my mother for a long time she loved her doll and seemed to be the only thing that kept her calm. Good to see more and more of this. Mom has had her baby for 2 years now."

Susanna Nicholos - Catskill, New York - (9 October 2014): "I have heard of great success with these dolls, they are very calming to the patients and brings them great joy god bless you for all that you do..."

 

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June's Passing

June 1994

After an almost 12 year journey into the shadows of Alzheimer's, early one morning in late October 2008, an exhausted June felt God's gentle touch on her shoulder and heard the words: "Come Home June!" As June lay like a wounded soldier on a battlefield, it was God's Angels that ushered June into a Heavenly Kingdom to the sound of a chorus of Angels...and into June's new home, a "Mansion on the Hilltop", where there is no pain, nor illness nor tears...June's funeral notice as published in the Minneapolis Star in October 2008 can be seen on this website in the drop down menu under the "In Memoriam" label - just Click on:

"June K. (Rolstad) Berg - In Memoriam"