Therapeutic use of dolls for people living with dementia: A critical review of the literature

Dementia (London). 2016 Sep;15(5):976-1001. doi: 10.1177/1471301214548522. Epub 2014 Aug 25.


Background: There are a number of therapies currently available to assist healthcare professionals and carers with non-pharmacological treatment for people living with dementia. One such therapy that has been growing in clinical practice is doll therapy. Providing dolls to some people living with dementia has the potential to enhance personal well-being through increased levels of communication and engagement with others. Despite its potential for benefits, the practice is currently under-developed in healthcare literature, probably due to varied ethical interpretations of its practice.

Aim: To undertake a critical review of the published literature on doll therapy, using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme Checklist (CASP) tool, in order to determine the potential benefits and challenges of this therapy for people living with dementia.

Design: A comprehensive literature search, incorporating the CINAHL, Medline, Embase, PubMed, Joanna Briggs, Cochrane Library and PsycINFO data bases, was conducted.

Conclusions: Despite many commentaries and anecdotal accounts of the practice, this review identified only 11 empirical studies that were eligible. The majority of studies found that the use of dolls could be therapeutic for some people living with dementia by reporting increased levels of engagement, communication and reduction in episodes of distress. Some studies identified limitations to the therapy including; confusion over the ownership of the doll and healthcare professional uncertainty about issues pertaining to autonomy.

Relevance to clinical practice: According to this review, doll therapy has the potential to increase the well-being of some people living with dementia. This review illuminates that some healthcare professionals feel uncomfortable about its use in clinical practice. The operationalisation of doll therapy in clinical practice has been shown to be inconsistent with different approaches to the practice being advocated. This highlights the need for further empirical research to identify best practice and education to increase awareness in both healthcare professional and carer populations.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; dementia; doll therapy; non-pharmacological interventions; person-centred care; therapeutic interventions.

MeSH terms

  • Dementia / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient-Centered Care
  • Play Therapy / methods*
  • Quality of Life
  • Treatment Outcome