At Arthurs, you may see a client cradling a doll. Or as someone is sitting in the common room, their fingers are busy with a string of beads sewn to a blanket. These ordinary activities are actually a part of the therapies we use at Arthurs. We offer doll therapy and fidget blankets because we find they’re effective ways to help clients with advanced dementia feel calmer and more grounded.

What is doll therapy?

Doll therapy is simply providing the patient with a doll to love and cuddle, as if it were a real baby. For someone with advancing dementia or Alzheimer’s, doll therapy can be highly effective when it comes to calming agitation and soothing stress in the patient. It’s common to use robotic dolls, which have lifelike features, such as hair, a heartbeat and breathing bellows, to add to the comforting qualities. Some facilities, instead of robotic dolls, opt for robotic pets.

These are some of the benefits of doll therapy:

  • Having something to hold and nurture is calming and comforting.
  • Therapy dolls can give clients a sense of purpose, something to focus their attention on.
  • There are no side effects, other than having the agitation melt away.

What happens when a client uses doll therapy?

Doll therapy is often deployed in the mid to late stages of dementia. The clients simply pick up the doll for cradling, cuddling or cooing, just like a real baby. Because they do treat the dolls like a real baby, it’s important to have the patient’s dignity in mind when introducing doll therapy. At Arthur’s, we may set them out or offer them, so clients are free to discover them and make the choice to hold and interact with the dolls. But these therapy dolls do resonate with certain clients. As soon as that doll is settled in their arms, any agitation or stress just melts away. Having something to nurture can be very centering.

Over the many months the dolls have been with us, they have received a lot of attention. Their hair is rubbed off, their faces are smudged. Even the mechanical features of the heartbeat and breathing bellows are broken. But they’re truly loved. Much like the Velveteen Rabbit, they have become real in their own way.

Read a couple examples in Doll Therapy for Dementia.

What are fidget blankets?

A fidget blanket is a quilt or a blanket that has several attachments sewn on to keep hands occupied. These therapeutic blankets go by other names, like sensory blankets or busy blankets. Sewn on the fidget blanket may be a string of beads, a spool of thread, or interesting textures, like soft fringes, a cluster of smooth buttons or bits of ridged ribbon.

These fidget blankets are ideal for people who are in the advanced stages of dementia. At this phase, it can become too difficult to engage in activities that require more finger dexterity, such as folding a washcloth, moving a game piece or putting together a puzzle. Touching and manipulating the objects on the quilt provides clients something quiet to focus on.

We know they’re working when they just allow these clients to take in the activity happening in the room. Here, you might see a client working the zipper, or gently fidgeting with the empty spool of thread. They’re not overstimulated, nor are they under pressure to perform. It just creates a calm, comfortable scene.

Learn more about how we provide specialized care in our series “Insights from Arthur’s” featuring educational videos from Arthur’s Director of Development and Senior Care Consultant, Deb Nygaard.