Memory Care: How To Use Doll Therapy As A Meaningful Group Activity.

Doll therapy is so beneficial for those who are drawn to it.

Having therapy dolls displayed in visible locations on memory care units, and particularly in a nursery life station setting, provides the residents with an opportunity to engage in this type of therapy when they feel inclined to.

Doll therapy may not be appropriate for all residents, and it is important for staff to be conscious of this. Attempting to persuade a resident to engage in doll therapy, when they have not shown interest, or have clearly stated they do not wish to, is not appropriate, and can do more harm than good.

The benefit of having your therapy dolls displayed in a nursery life station, is that it provides staff with the opportunity to keep track of which residents choose to engage with the dolls independently. These will be the residents who are likely to benefit the most from your doll therapy group.

This activity will not only assist in reducing the spread of germs, but will also encourage reminiscing, and provide feelings of purpose and belonging.

Doll Therapy Group activity – Baby Bathing

Supplies Needed:

How The Program Works:

  • Gather all therapy dolls in a location with water access, but out of residents view. I will warn you that the preparation for this activity can feel slightly awkward, so if you have access to a low traffic area to prepare, I recommend doing it there.
  • Once you have all of the therapy dolls gathered, you will want to remove their clothing so that these items can be washed properly. I recommend pre-washing/sanitizing the hands and faces of the dolls and allowing them to dry before presenting them to the residents, as these areas are not covered by clothing, and have likely been touched and kissed by numerous residents.
  • Using a combination of dish soap and baby wash, drizzle a small amount onto the sponge, as well as the bottom of the wash basin.
  • Fill wash basin approximately halfway using warm water, while working up a lather with the sponge.
  • Place therapy doll into soapy wash basin, resting sponge over pelvic area.
  • Place wash basin with therapy doll onto trolley.
  • Repeat steps with all remaining therapy dolls/wash basins..
  • Cover trolley with a blanket, tarp, or table cloth before making your way to the location you will be holding your activity, as it can be startling for residents to see you pushing the loaded cart.
  • If you have a supply of baby clothing, you can pre wash them, or simply ‘fluff’ them in the dryer so that they feel warm to the residents touch.
  • Lay a towel down on the table in each location that you plan to seat a resident.
  • Place one baby wash basin on top of each towel, to prevent making a mess on the table during the washing part of the program.
  • If you are using one large table for your program, empty the laundry basket with warm clothing onto the center of the table.
  • If you are using multiple smaller tables, you can set up a specific table dedicated to folding the baby clothes. (If a resident wants to join your program, but you don’t think that they will respond well to the therapy dolls, you can simply ask them to join the group by assisting with folding clothing.
  • Play soft lullabies in the background of your program to help the residents relax, and reminisce.
  • Ask the residents to help wash the therapy dolls using the sponges provided.
  • Be sure to have extra towels handy, for once the resident feels that their ‘baby’ is clean. They may choose to hold them wrapped in their towel for a while before dressing them.
  • Once the resident is ready, assist them in choosing a new outfit from the warm laundry that is being folded.
  • The resident will then dress the baby, in the new outfit they have chosen.
  • To help the program slowly come to an end, I will chat with the residents about parenthood and tell stories about my own children as I gradually drain each basin, and tidy up the tables.
  • If there is still clothing to be folded, I will assist with the remaining folding.
  • If you have a nursery life station, you can offer to put the babies down for a nap, or allow them to continue snuggling them if they’d like.
  • Once the program is complete, and the room is clean, I will thank the residents for all of their help with the bathing and folding.
  • You can either turn the music off before leaving the area, or if the residents will be staying in that area after the program, I will sometimes simply lower the music, but leave it play to make for a smoother transition out of the program.

This program does take extra prep time, and is not a program that should be rushed through, so make sure to leave yourself enough time.

I will never forget the first time I introduced this program to the residents on our memory care unit, and got to watch them lovingly interact with the therapy dolls as a group.

It was one of those moments that made me realize just how much I love working in this field.

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