Doll Therapy Helps People with Mental disorders, though debates continue


A word of caution is advised for those with a fear or dislike for dolls. But if you think you can handle it, do read on.

Meet Vivian Guzofsky, an 88-year-old with Alzheimer’s disease, living in the Sunrise Senior Living Home located in Beverly Hills, California. For a few hours of the day every day, Vivian goes from the secure memory floor she lives on to the pretend nursery, where she plays with her little baby doll in its crib, decked-up in its puppy motifed pj’s. And it is in that time that Vivian who is generally aggressive and agitated, becomes as calm as ever, say the care-givers of the facility.1

At some point, nobody knows whether she feels she is caring for a real baby or a doll. Vivian converses with them like you would with a loved one by saying, ‘Hello beautiful. You’re

so cute’. She would carry on by changing its clothes, putting it down for a nap and has on occasion even sang the 1930’s song by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell called ‘You are my sunshine’ to the dolls. Vivian says she loves babies and so does what makes her feel happy, which is to care for one.

Likewise, 87-year-old Marilou Roos has dementia, and is known to speak very little and spend most of her time sleeping. But when her caregiver calls for her time to play with dolls, Marilou’s face lights up.

On seeing these astounding results, ‘doll therapy’ became a therapeutic method that has spread across various nursing homes and senior care facilities in the US, including easing the anxiety in those with dementia, who are prone to drastic changes in their moods, personality along with aggressive tendencies and anger.

Although controversial, those pro-dolls claim that when playing with the dolls, it has and probably helps reduce stress, facilitate better communication and has even removed the need for the usually administered medication for psycho-activity.

What usually happens during the ‘doll therapy’

sessions are the seniors get a chance to hold, care for, change or dress the baby dolls or toys. More often than not, the conversations they have with the dolls are as though it were their own kids or grand-kids. The therapy is usually tried on those seniors that have become a little more aloof, usually because they are bored or depressed, so this enables them to participate and engage in some interactive way.


A lot of the doll therapy is also environmentally stimulated, so the Sunrise Beverly Hills the nursery has been arranged to look like a baby’s room, with stuffed teddy bears on one side with some in a wooden crib, a changing table with diapers, a few framed photos of the seniors who regularly come to play, some fake feeding bottles and a shelf of Dr. Seuss books. In addition, the nursing home also has an art room, kitchens and gardens so they can

do anything that may remind them of their past or what they long for.

Likewise, caregivers even ask the seniors about what they imagine or have with their respective dolls such as, ‘How many children do you have? Or ‘Was your first baby a boy or a girl?’ etc.

Although, even the executive director of the nursing home said he was wary about the ‘doll therapy’ method when he first heard about them. He felt it was like they were lying to the seniors or deceiving them with a false sense of reality. He soon changed his mind when he started to see how the seniors behaved and how respectful the process was.

Vivian. For example, has three kids, volunteered a lot in Mexico before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years back. Her daughter Carol Mizel, said she likes the fact that her mother has a creative outlet to what she is dealing with. Likewise, the only time Marilou talks to the staff and opens up is when she has a doll in her hand, if not she is usually to herself.


as if it’s her own, Marilou cradles the baby in her arms, kisses it twice and even tells the staff that it’s a beautiful baby boy of 5 months. Which comes as no shocker to her carers, as Marilou has five kids of her own, including her daughter, Ellen, who is saddened by her mother’s deterioration because she hasn’t called her by her name in more than a year, so seeing that calm on her face with the dolls was beyond comforting.


On the flip side, those against this technique, including some care providers themselves, say that doll-play for these seniors are not dignifying to them. They say its disrespectful, demeaning and even infantilizing them. Since they are adults, they claim they should be treated as such, especially the more well-educated seniors. So the games should allow for brain betterment, critical thinking as well as music or the arts. Moreover, some of the relatives of these doll-playing

seniors also feel embarrassed about them engaging in it.

Although the research on doll therapy is relatively new and limited, in a behavioral observation aspect many nursing centers have seen a lesser need for using medication to help control the mood swings and adverse behaviors of these seniors.

The haters, who are probably just being a little rigid, have a fear of dolls or have just been scarred by watching the movie ‘Chucky’, should see this on a broader note, as this solution could actually hold a deeper meaning.

For all you know these seniors probably miss being home surrounded by loved ones, so they just want to care for someone or have someone to call their own, that sense of attachment or security, to have a peace in the eye of the seeming chaos in their minds.

It could even be a call for the greater powers of an active imagination, by exercising the right side of the brain, which is responsible for creativity and imaginative tasks.

Whatever it may be there needs to be out-of-the-box solutions to cater to those with mental disorders

and not fall trap to the stigma it already holds in society.