Guys and dolls: Two case reports of spontaneous interactions with dolls in male veterans with dementia

Psychol Serv. 2022 Aug;19(3):527-533. doi: 10.1037/ser0000509. Epub 2021 Jul 1.


Prior studies have described positive behavioral, emotional, and social responses to dolls in persons with dementia (PWD), but most have examined formal doll therapy in institutional settings and primarily included women. This study describes two cases of spontaneous doll interactions in male veterans who were participating in a research study of a gentle group movement program at an adult day center. A doll was present at the study site, and two participants chose to interact with it. Researchers analyzed class videos and thematically coded behavioral, emotional, and social responses to the doll. Mr. B was a 90-year-old World War II-era veteran with moderate Alzheimer's disease. Behavioral responses (n = 83) toward the doll included gazing, holding, and caressing. Emotional responses (n = 46) included chuckles, smiles, and laughter. Social responses (n = 59) involved conversations about the doll in which his ability to communicate verbally was markedly improved. Mr. C was a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran with mild Lewy body dementia. He also exhibited frequent behavioral (n = 10), social (n = 11) and emotional (n = 8) responses toward the doll. In addition, he reported having an intense, cathartic dream about the doll, crying "it brings me back to holding my son or my daughter." These case studies add to the literature supporting the benefits of doll use by PWD by describing the effects of spontaneous doll use in two male veterans. Results suggest that having dolls available and providing a nonjudgmental environment where doll use is encouraged and supported may have profound beneficial effects to diverse populations. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Dementia* / psychology
  • Dementia* / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Play and Playthings
  • Veterans*