While baby dolls normally bring out the nurturing instincts in children, they are now producing joy in a whole new demographic.

A chain of assisted living facilities has started giving life-like baby dolls to dementia and Alzheimer’s patients as a means of alleviating stress and spurring positive emotions and memories about parenthood—and it works beautifully.

Placing dolls in their care has not only lifted the spirits of patients, but also given them a sense of self-worth, cut down on their tendency to wander off, and reduced the need for anxiety medication.

During the “Cuddle Therapy”, the doll is given to the resident to “care for” as part of their daily schedule. By holding, rocking, and cuddling the doll, the seniors can gain a deeper sense of purpose, which helps to reduce depression, agitation, and anxiety.

The therapy, currently offered in eight locations in four U.S. states, also encourages a sense of love and self-worth: The dolls help people with Alzheimer’s and dementia connect back into the world and express love. For those residents who are parents, it can bring back the happy memories of raising a family.

“My mother comes to life when she cuddles these baby dolls,” says April Hannewald, whose mother is currently a patient at the Poet’s Walk Memory Care Community in Nevada. “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?’”

Photos by Poet’s Walk, Warrenton, VA

Terra Brown, Executive Director at Poet’s Walk Warrenton, Virginia says: “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 of purpose that they long for.”

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The “Cuddle Therapy” is currently being utilized at the Poet’s Walk Memory Care Communities at eight locations: In the Virginia cities of Leesburg, Fredericksburg, and Warrenton; in Texas facilities in Cedar Park, Round Rock, and San Antonio; in Henderson, Nevada; and Sarasota, Florida.

If you are interested in utilizing a similar treatment with a patient or nursing home, the Cuddle Therapy program recommends using dolls that don’t cry, to avoid stressful responses in patients. Beyond that, the dolls should be treated as if they were real babies, rather than toys.

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“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,” says Hannewald. “Of all of the many activities Poet’s Walk offers to their memory care residents, cuddle therapy is as good as it gets.”

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