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Baby Doll Therapy & Stuffed Animal Therapy for People with Alzheimer’

The late Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame, wrote that, “Happiness is a warm puppy.”

Maybe he knew that happiness is just the start when it comes to enhancing the lives of older loved ones in nursing homes or assisted living, terminal patients and even caregivers looking to improve their own health. Known as Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT), there is a growing movement to increase animal/patient interactions for health and wellness benefits. Pet therapy for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia has also proven to be a powerful tool for what is known as “sundowners,” the evening periods where patients become agitated or confused.

Anyone who has seen it happen, knows that a baby doll has the power to soothe and comfort people with mid-late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, just like a plush stuffed animal cat or dog Memorable Pet does. Investigation of the effects that baby dolls have on people who have Alzheimer’s disease is in its early stages, however, when one talks to caregivers who have participated in baby doll therapy, most of them will speak highly about the experience.  Although for some, it can be discomforting to see an adult holding a baby doll, we need to acknowledge the benefits and keep in mind the nurturing, love and happiness a baby doll can provide for our loved ones who are suffering.

Research and Theory

Much of the research involving doll therapy for Alzheimer’s disease has been carried out at Newcastle General Hospital in England 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 baby dolls were introduced to the residents. Various studies by this group, all observing the effect of baby doll therapy on people with dementia, all reached similar positive conclusions.

The most recent, Using Dolls to Alter Behavior in Patients with Dementia, Nursing Times VOL: 103, ISSUE: 5, PAGE NO: 36-37

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

Another interesting and significant observation reported in these studies involves caregiver reaction to the introduction of baby dolls to the care environment. All of the caregivers in the facility were given surveys before and after the study. Initially 9 of the 46 staff members voiced some initial concern, mostly centering on perception that the dolls would be ‘babyish’, ‘totally demeaning’, ‘patronizing’, or otherwise ‘inappropriate’. In the interview that followed at the conclusion of the study, only one caregiver retained this concern.  All of the others “felt that there were clear benefits of using baby dolls. . . . 14 caregivers felt that residents’ lives were a little better, and 32 felt that their lives were much better.

At this point we could go into a detailed look at the research and the conclusions on the benefits of live pet therapy, stuffed animal pet therapy and doll therapy. Suffice to say, live pet therapy with real dogs has been used to help dementia patients. Dogs used as pet therapy are one of the most popular companion animals, but there are some risks: hazards for the dog, hazards for the patient, sensory overload, dislike of the pet, and so on. Doll therapy has also been applied as a diversional therapy for dementia patients in Australia. With technology and robotics, there have even been studies based around a few electronic and robotic animal-shaped toys.

Introducing a Baby Doll or Stuffed Animal Pet

A baby doll or stuffed animal has to be introduced to those with Alzheimer's very carefully. One way is to show the baby doll or stuffed animal to the person and say "what do you think of this?"  You will know pretty quickly if the person suffering from Alzheimer's will want to hold the baby / stuffed animal and what he or she thinks of it.  A baby doll can be seen as a welcoming grandchild or the little sibling of their youth. The person with Alzheimer's may also fear the baby doll and see it as an unwanted responsibility.

It is best to introduce baby doll therapy and stuffed animal therapy in a controlled atmosphere allowing the dementia patient to take responsibility. This can bring structure to their lives in a positive manner. Our Believable Babies can help a person who is not verbalizing to initiate speech again. It is part of the basic thought process to speak, hum or sing to a baby in your arms. 

Whether you give your loved one a Believable Baby or a Memorable Pet, this type of therapy works to enhance the lives of people suffering from dementia. Give it a try!





Of more importance in this situation is results and experiences of others and can be demonstrated through taking a look at a company, started by sisters Bettina Dickson Rusher and Frances Dickson, which came to fruition after their mother began her battle with Alzheimer’s.

Our mother had a real cat which she loved, but once the Alzheimer’s set in she was unable to care for it properly, so we bought her a stuffed cat to keep her company,” Rusher said. “We were amazed at the joy the cat brought her and how attached she became. Before we knew it we were producing animals and and handing them out as gifts to other patients on her floor at the Veteran’s Center in Wilmore KY, which cared for mostly men.  We could see the results with both men and women!

In a March 2012 article, published and written by Shelley Webb, a Registered Nurse and founder of The Intentional Caregiver website, herself having been a caregiver for her father in her home, quoted Bettina Dickson as saying “Several studies have shown that interactions with a stuffed animal increase happiness and provide a calming effect. They’re also a great way to allow patients, who often have to rely on everyone else for care, to be able to care for something themselves,”.

Below are a number of testimonials from people using products available from Memorable Pets. The company now run by the sisters. They now offer a simple, inexpensive therapeutic prop that not only helps the patient / loved one, but also can take some of the pressure off the caregiver when a Memorable Pet is used as a security companion and soothing tool (click on images below for larger image).

What really appealed to me and why I chose to include them here is when you buy a Memorable Pet, they  "pay it forward"...8% of proceeds from regular retail priced Memorable Pets (excluding Special Order items) on this website, goes to support Alzheimer's care and research!


Their approach is simple ...

Memorable Pet chose promoting realistic looking stuffed animal dogs and cats over dolls for several reasons:

  • First and foremost, this is what worked for thier mother…she was always an animal lover!
  • It is a little easier for the family to see a man holding a stuffed animal rather than a doll
  • We liked the tactile qualities of a stuffed animal…very soft and cuddly… washable
  • We knew animal lovers would promote this concept as a way to help people
  • The price point is much better… the dolls we have seen being used are $80- $200; we wanted to reach a wide economic class that could afford our product.

To view the full range of Memorable Pets ... CLICK HERE

Caregiver Testimonials

"I bought my step-mom, Betty, a Memorable Pet calico cat. “She has had Cali since December and I can’t begin to tell you what an important part of her life that cat has become. Betty is in assisted living and loves cats. Cali has a special place right next to Betty’s chair but more important, she has a special place in Betty’s heart. Cali is held, stroked and talked to daily. Thank you so much for these life-like animals who enrich the lives of so many.”
Diana, Coudersport PA

“We gave our Mother “Douglas” forChristmas. She at first was creeped out by him because he was always looking at her, she did get over that. She would have him sit in her chair with her and she would pet on him and talk to him. Unfortunately, Mom passed away March 2. I do know she grew to love Douglas up until the time she was hospitalized. I have Douglas now, I talk to him about Mom and pet and love on him.”
Kris, Memphis TN

“I bought a Memorable Pet dog for my husband who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. His reaction to his memorable pet is certainly positive, he has evenings where he’ll sit with the dog on his lap and caress it. He is always talking to it, like you would a puppy…he will sometimes carry it around as well.
Jeanne, Manchester NH

“I bought the schnauzer for my mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s. We had to bring her dog to live with us when she went to assisted living and she misses him.  I gave her the dog on Easter Sunday and she was delighted.  Several staff members commented on how much he looked like her dog, Miles, and called him “mini-me.” I am hoping he brings her some comfort as she is agitated quite often.  I love the softness of the animal and hair and she loves him so the feedback is great.” 
Linda, Shreveport LA

“I bought a Memorable Pets dog for my husband who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. His reaction to his memorable pet is certainly positive, he has evenings where he’ll sit with the dog on his lap and caress it.  He is always talking to it, like you would a puppy…he will sometimes carry it around as well.   Jeanne, Manchester NH