By: Alexander MacDonald

“With doll therapy it makes our residents feel less restless, less aggressive and it also gives them a sense of peace and calmness.”– Charlene Steyn, Social worker at Huis Uitsig.

Since the 1930s, certain individuals started modifying regular dolls to resemble real newborn children. They are called reborn dolls for this exact reason. As time passed by, the reborn dolls became a profitable business where doll companies started selling newborn dolls with extra parts and equipment. Today, these realistic dolls are used as therapeutic tools for various types of mental health issues, like Alzheimer’s disease, to help calm their inner anxiety and give them peace of mind.

A donation of reborn dolls were given to Huis Uitsig by a very generous woman in their surrounding Parow community. Charlene Steyn, a social worker at Huis Uitsig, stated that the dolls are used for therapeutic reasons for people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In her opinion she believes that the dolls, as a therapy tool, do make a real difference. These tools improve communication; reduces stress, anxiety, levels of fear, aggression and loneliness; offer a sense of calmness; and stimulates the memory.

Steyn had the following to say about the purpose of the dolls, “According to various research done, ‘Reborn Dolls’ can be used for many different reasons. The more lifelike the doll looks, the more beneficial the therapy will be. Dolls can be used for parents who lost a child, parents who never have a child of their own, and even patients suffering from depression.” She believes that the elderly at Huis Uitsig enjoy these tools of encouragement immensely. The dolls are not just appreciated and enjoyed by the female gender, but also by the male gender. Even the staff experience the dolls as a calming presence.

Reborn dolls may be an all-round excellent therapy tool, but should be used in the correct manner where the elderly is concerned. Alissa Sauer (blogger: Alzheimer’s Treatments) shared a few tips that allows each experience with the dolls to be easy and effective. She stated that the purpose of the doll should be communicated for anyone providing care and should not be forced on any elderly. The elderly should be allowed to approach, hold and be stimulated by the doll on their own time. The dolls that cry out loud, should not be purchased, as they could be very upsetting.

According to Nicola Baume (Article: ‘Alzheimer Patients and Reborn Dolls’), “Doll Therapy is best introduced in the early to middle stages of Alzheimer’s. In the early stages the patient may know the reborn doll is not real but will enjoy the pleasures of naming it and constantly changing its clothes.” Baume further stated, “Reborn dolls however, are not a cure and the sufferer will not suddenly transform back to their former self because of a reborn doll but it is the comfort the patient feels that is the real benefit of reborn doll therapy.” The comfort these dolls provide to the elderly, and the alleviation of aggression and stress are two of the main reasons Steyn and Huis Uitsig are grateful for this generous donation. Steyn says the most rewarding part of her job for the last 2 years is when she is surprised with a smile and a thankful heart.

The irreversible nature of Alzheimer’s may still carry a lot of weight. But to allow these members of society to feel safe and secure, even if it is with a doll, should dim the inevitability as much and as strongly as possible. Dolls are present throughout our life cycles, from early development to elderly care; therefore, the appreciation of reborn dolls should be recognised, especially if made for a disease that does not provide room for rebirth of the mind.

“I might lose all my memories one day, but that wouldn’t keep me from making them.” – Sarah Ockler, The Book of Broken Hearts

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