Ethical considerations of doll therapy for people with dementia

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19 Citations (Scopus)


The use of doll therapy for people with dementia has been emerging in recent years. Providing a doll to someone with dementia has been associated with a number of benefits which include a reduction in episodes of distress, an increase in general well-being, improved dietary intake and higher levels of engagement with others. It could be argued that doll therapy fulfils the concepts of beneficence (facilitates the promotion of well-being) and respect for autonomy (the person with dementia can exercise their right to engage with dolls if they wish). However, some may believe that doll therapy is inappropriate when applied to the concepts of dignity (people with dementia are encouraged to interact with dolls) and non-maleficence (potential distress this therapy could cause for family members). The absence of rigorous empirical evidence and legislative guidelines render this a therapy that must be approached cautiously owing to the varied subjective interpretations of Kitwood’s ‘malignant social psychology’ and bioethics. This article suggests that by applying a ‘rights-based approach’, healthcare professionals might be better empowered to resolve any ethical tensions they may have when using doll therapy for people with dementia. In this perspective, the internationally agreed upon principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provide a legal framework that considers the person with dementia as a ‘rights holder’ and places them at the centre of any ethical dilemma. In addition, those with responsibility towards caring for people with dementia have their capacity built to respect, protect and fulfil dementia patient’s rights and needs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)720-730
Number of pages11
JournalNursing Ethics
Issue number6
Early online date03 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - 01 Sep 2014


  • Dementia
  • Doll Therapy
  • Non-Pharmacological Intervention
  • Older People
  • Ethics


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