November 23, 2020
The empathy doll is designed keeping research guidelines in mind. The weight, balance, size and features are designed to encourage users to engage more readily with the doll. Empathy dolls encourage affection, trust and encourages the natural care instinct. When designing the features of any empathy doll's face, lots of emphasis must be put on the eyes. A constant eye contact helps to develop a strong emotional bond which is the basis for learning social skills. The inviting and kind eyes of the Rubens Barn dolls provides a focal point of emotional attachment.
Some people with dementia may find that they get enjoyment from holding or simply being with a doll. It might remind them of a time when they had young children themselves or it may simply create pleasant feelings of reminiscence or affection.
Some family members find that giving the person they care for a doll can help them to connect with the outside world. Some people with dementia can enjoy the sensation of holding something soothing, and it can inspire a renewed sense of purpose, which can lead to increased activity levels and liveliness.
There is evidence showing that the use of empathy dolls can be particularly helpful for those who may not be socially engaging or communicating with others, or who are restless, distressed or anxious, improving their well-being and ability to communicate.
If you decide to gift your loved one with an empathy doll, it is best to introduce the doll gradually. You could place the empathy on a chair before the person enters the room and then you can observe quietly to see if they respond. Let the person discover the empathy doll in their own time. If they show no interest in it, do not worry too much about drawing their attention to it. You can always try another day. If the person with dementia is interested in the empathy doll you can use it as a way to connect with them. You could ask them questions about the doll, referring to it as he, she or they.
If they person with dimentia or Alzheimer's is not able to answer questions about the doll you could make observations about the doll to them instead. You could mention and admire the dolls clothing, hair, eyes.
The use of empathy dolls to reduce distress for a person with dementia should always be considered as part of the person’s care plan, responding to their individual needs. This is equally as important when empathy dolls are being introduced into a group setting such as a care home.
The individual needs of the person should be discussed with and considered by each member of staff. Not everyone will want to interact with an empathy doll. If the person shows no interest then do not try to force that interest to develop.
Some other family members may feel uncomfortable seeing a person with dementia caring a doll as they might think the person with dementia is being treated like a child. It is important to allow the person with dementia to make their own decisions about using an empathy doll, and this will to help other people in the family to understand those decisions.
It is important to discuss your plans with other members of the person’s family to discover their views and explaining the benefits and the evidence may help soothe any concerns that they may have about Empathy Doll Therapy.
Some people with dementia may become very attached to an empathy doll. Grandchildren or other residents in a care home may pick up the doll which could cause upset. Consider using the doll at times when this is less likely to happen, and consider providing other objects or toys for other people to engage with, if this is likely.
It is important to observe the ongoing interaction as the person with dementia may become so attached to their empathy doll that they may start neglecting their own needs to prioritise the doll. For example they may be putting the doll in their bed while they sleep in a chair, or trying to give it their food. Watch for these signs of attachment and consider using the doll away from meal times and early in the day rather than close to bedtime.