brain · disease · health · mental health · play

Why I support doll therapy for Alzheimers

I heard an interesting story on NPR today: the increase in doll therapy for patients with dementia:

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Guzofsky, who has Alzheimer’s disease [pictured above], lives on a secure memory floor at a home for seniors in Beverly Hills, Calif. She visits the dolls in the home’s pretend nursery nearly every day. Sometimes Guzofsky changes their clothes or lays them down for a nap. One morning in August, she sings to them: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray.”

No one knows whether she believes she is holding a doll or a real baby. What the staff at Sunrise Senior Living do know is that Guzofsky, who can get agitated and aggressive, is always calm when caring for the dolls.

Doll therapy is catching on at nursing homes and other senior facilities across the country. It’s used to help ease anxiety among residents with dementia, who can experience personality changes, agitation and aggression. But the therapy is controversial.

Supporters say the dolls can lessen distress, improve communication and reduce the need for psychotropic medication. Critics say the dolls are demeaning and infantilize seniors.

Full story here.

I understand the concern that critics may find this kind of treatment demeaning to seniors who now need care to do basic everyday tasks.

However, let’s think of this as something else: Play Therapy.

It’s true that it can be hard to tell if the patients realize this is a toy doll or real baby. However this could potentially be very similar to a child’s imaginary play with dolls or an imaginary friend: kids know it’s pretend, but also get very invested in their pretend world, taking care of their babies, feeding them, changing them, snuggling them for comfort.

I also agree that the positive results – reduced stress, increased verbalization, and more – without the use of medication, make it worth more exploration rather than outright rejection because of its use of toys and play. Maybe the nay-sayers should give it a try.

children · creativity · education · emotion · environment · happiness · health · play · psychology · Social

Exploration of Playful Learning Spaces for Children

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toys (Photo credit: red5standingby)

From the blog Art Farm, a play/art therapist who offers some advice on creating spaces that encourage kids to explore, learn and play:

I really learned the importance of organizing and preparing spaces while working with youth in school settings in several public housing developments in Chicago.  So often these youth would come to me (for either individual or group art therapy sessions) filled with anxieties which either manifested as acting out or withdrawn behaviors. The arrangement and presentation of the private space we used was a powerful, non-verbal message to them stating that all things are respected here – including you; everything has a place here – including you; and everything you will need to have a successful experience is here – starting with you.

[Mariah] Bruehl offers some questions to ask when designing a space for your own child:

  • Can your child access the materials in the play space independently? Are they organized in baskets or bins that are clearly labeled so your child knows how and where to put things away when finished with them?
  • Are the materials presented in an attractive manner that invites your child to use them?
  • Do the materials, toys, and games represent a balance between your child’s and your own preferences? Do they represent what you value and thus encourage your child to engage in activities that you feel good about?
  • What is your child currently interested in? If your child no longer plays with dinosaurs, but has been talking a lot about birds, make sure that the play space reflects this current passion. Rotating toys is a great way to keep your child interested in play space activities and ultimately prolongs the life of your child’s playthings. It never ceases to amaze me how excited my girls get about a toy that comes back into rotation. The nostalgia they feel toward a toy they have not seen in a while is almost more than their delight over a brand-new toy.
  • Is the play space a calming environment that allows one to focus on the task at hand without distracting colors, decorations, or objects?
  • Are you seeing things from you child’s perspective? Put yourself in your child’s shoes to determine the right height for displaying and storing materials and hanging art.
  • Is this a space that makes you want to make art, explore science, write stories, and more? If so, would you have everything you need to do what you want to do? What else would you add to enrich and deepen your child’s learning experience in the play space?

What other playful space researchers are out there? Any recommendations? I know about the organization Art With Heart, which focuses on creating therapeutic resources for sick kids. But I’d love to hear more about what’s out there. Let me know in the comments below.