When an older person has dementia, and are struggling with anxiety, depression and agitation, it can be heartbreaking for their loved ones to witness.

This is where alternative therapies can be introduced to help the older person cope with their symptoms. And one such therapy that has recently been brought back to the community’s attention is doll therapy.

Doll therapy is where dolls of babies or plush animal toys are given to people with dementia to “care for”.

To people with dementia, they believe that the doll is a living creature that needs them – which can trigger past feelings of care they have given to their own children and pets.

And because they are only dolls and toys, it is less of an issue if they drop the doll, and they certainly cannot make any mistakes that will affect them.

A recent viral post of a couple delivering dolls to residents at a nursing home in Louisville, Kentucky has stated the “doll therapy” debate once again.

The couple, Sandy and Wayne Cambron, are seen distributing dolls from their project “Pearl’s Memory Babies” which is in memory of Wayne’s late mother who died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2008.

Sandy’s mother-in-law loved her own doll and kept it by her side until she passed.

For years, Cambron’s family had been visiting the home with dolls in Pearl’s memory.

“It’s overwhelming,” Cambron told TODAY. “It’s just great to know that it’s comforting them.”

We decided to do this in memory of [Pearl]. Her baby was her little buddy and her companion, it gave her lots of comfort,’ Cambron said. ‘We knew how much it meant to her and we realized what she was going through.

‘We saw the other Alzheimer’s patients and they just became so precious to us, we want to try to make their last days as pleasant as we can.’

However, doll therapy also receives its fair share of criticisms too, with claims that doll therapy strips older people of their dignity.

Some people believe that by giving older people dolls, it is actually “infantilising” the people with dementia.

They believe that it the therapy essentially treats the older people like children when they are actually adults, and is rather condescending.

And it’s not just carers and family members who do not like the therapy. Some older people act rather negatively towards doll therapy – they may see the toy as a “dead” baby, as they struggle to tell the it is not real.

While other older people have been reported to dislike the toy and reject or throw them away.

However, it should be noted that, like all therapies, what works for some people will not necessarily benefit others. Each person and their diagnosis – as well as how they respond to therapies – is completely unique.

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