How Baby Dolls Are Helping Alzheimer's Patients to Enjoy Life

Remembering the joys of parenthood


Old demented person plays with toy doll

(Ivonne Wierink /

Although baby dolls are usually geared towards children, the toys have been sparking the imaginations of an older age group as well. One assisted living home company has brought dolls which sound like and resemble tiny humans to residents with Alzheimer’s and Dementia as a way to reinforce nurturing behaviors and decrease stress.

The dolls bring joy to the patients' day and help them remember what it means to look after and care for someone. One unexpected effect of the toys is that many patients have even been able to cut down on their anxiety medication, as they allow residents to focus on looking after the dolls.

During “Cuddle Therapy,” they cuddle, hold, rock, and tend to them, looking after the dolls as they would a baby. While caring for the dolls has shown to greatly decrease the senior citizen’s depression and agitation, it also allows them to express love and recreate a sense of connection to their environment and the world.

The therapy is offered in four US states. April Hannewald’s mother is a patient at Poet’s Walk Memory Care Community in Nevada, and because of “Cuddle Therapy,” she’s become re-energized and feels a greater sense of purpose.

“My mother is not very verbal any more, but when I’m pushing her around in a wheelchair, she immediately starts talking in full sentences when we pass the baby dolls, [saying things like] ‘Oh look! What are the babies doing?’” Hannewald said.

Although “Cuddle Therapy” isn’t the most high-tech of solutions, patients have a strong emotional response and show signs of improvement when it comes to their mental health. Executive Director at Poet’s Walk Warrenton, Terra Brown said: “among the various forms of recreation therapy that our caregivers provide, we have found cuddle therapy is one of the simplest and most therapeutic. It is also one of the most successful as it gives our residents a sense of purpose that they long for.”

Currently, the therapy is offered in several Virginian cities, including Leesburg, Fredericksburg, and Warrenton, Texas locations in Cedar Park, Round Rock, and San Antonio, Henderson, Nevada, and Sarasota, Florida. The Cuddle Therapy program recommends allowing patients to find their own nurturing approach to taking care of the dolls and to give them toys that don’t cry, in order to avoid stressful situations.

Hannewald said that her mom is typically unfocused until it’s time to hold the doll. “When I sit with my mom and she becomes fidgety and distracted, all I have to do is give her a baby doll and its puts a smile on her face. She talks to the baby and kisses its forehead often,” she said.

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