Medical Professionals Online

Baby Doll Therapy Aims To Soothe Geriatric Patients

October 13, 2017

What parent hasn't watched their young child in amazement as they pick up a baby doll, tenderly cradling and stroking it as though the child were mimicking the way their own parent held them? As quintessential as these toys are for young children, research has found that baby dolls are also effective tools in soothing geriatric patients.

At Geisinger Medical Center (GMC), nearly 40 percent of the patient population is considered to be geriatric age 65 or older. These older patients often come to the hospital with complex medical conditions, a long list of medications, and functional and cognitive limitations. They may also struggle with dementia or episodes of delirium upon hospitalization.

To better care for their geriatric patients, GMC nurses affiliated with Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders (NICHE), a national geriatric initiative to improve the care of older hospitalized adults, began to research the use of alternative treatment methods, namely baby doll therapy.

According to GMC nurses Tami Underhill, R.N., BSN, and Sarah Evans, R.N., this mode of therapy involves the simple act of offering a doll to a patient in need of soothing. The approach may seem fluffy to some, but it works wonders with their patients, according to Underhill.

"It is an effective therapy for improving dementia patients' quality of life," Underhill said. "It is also one of the easier therapies, if not the easiest, to administer."

Research has found that geriatric patients, particularly patients who suffer from dementia, tend to be more active and more focused when they are carrying or handling baby dolls. It also enhances communication, focus, attitude toward other patients and caretakers, while reducing agitation during routine care when they would typically become angry or difficult.

According to a recent study at a United Kingdom university, dolls have healing effects on individuals with dementia, and the Alzheimer's Association reports that this method has become widely used in hospitals, nursing homes and patient homes, as well as during hospice care.

At a nursing facility in Phoenix, Ariz., one nursing supervisor initially objected to a similar therapy, but quickly changed her opinion after seeing how calm a patient became when she rocked, caressed and fed her "baby."

"Not only do we want our patients to be healthy, but we want them to be happy," Underhill said. "The dolls are just a simple means to that end."

The baby doll therapy is just the first of a series of initiatives that will be part of GMC's alternative therapy program. Other tactics coming soon to GMC are the use of age-appropriate music a little Glenn Miller, perhaps? puzzles, games and playing cards, all of which will be delivered to in-patients units when the need arises.

Underhill and Evans anticipate seeing patients who are more at ease, with minds occupied by activities they find pleasurable.

"Our overall goal is to improve the care of our elderly patients," Underhill said. "We also hope that our nurses will be pleased to have a new array of tools they can use with their patients."

Source: Geisinger Health System