There is growing evidence of the effectiveness of using complementary therapies to enhance quality of life for people with Dementia. Complementary Therapy may benefit people with Dementia by:

  • Providing a sense of value
  • Increasing self-esteem and self worth
  • Providing an outlet for anger, stress and grieving
  • Providing enjoyment and socialisation
  • Satisfying spiritual needs
  • Enabling 1:1 and group interaction
  • Creating a comfortable and calming environment
  • Stimulating the senses
  • Stimulating interest in hobbies and activities
  • Enhancing holistic well being
  • Maintaining mobility and skills
  • Helping to manage adverse behaviours
  • Reducing reliance on medication
  • Promoting restful sleep
  • Helping to alleviate pain

The most common complementary therapies are:

Reminiscence Therapy
Music Therapy
Child Representation/Doll Therapy
Art Therapy
Pet Therapy


Aromatherapy is the use of pure essential oils from fragrant plants to help relieve health problems and improve quality of life in general. Essential oils are generally used in oil burners, soaked into pillows and tissues or massaged into the skin. Pure essential oils including lemon balm, lavender, chamomile, bergamot, neroli and valerian, have been used for their positive effects on mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Similarly, for people with Dementia, lavender and lemon balm are of particular benefit for their sedative and cognitive enhancing properties. More recently, there have been encouraging studies in support of these two essential oils for use in reducing disturbing behaviours and promotion of sleep and motivation in people with Dementia.

Click here to view our selection of Aromatherapy products specifically selected for people with Dementia.

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Reminiscence Therapy

Reminiscence therapy provides an opportunity for people with Dementia to reflect on past experiences and events of their lives and is often done with the help of videos, pictures, archives and a life history profile. Reminiscing can be a very positive and rewarding activity for both the person with Dementia and their carers as talking about old times and past events generally provides great satisfaction and enjoyment for everyone involved. However, be aware that reminiscing can also trigger sad and painful memories as well. If this happens, ensure that you are sensitive to the personâ??s emotions and try to redirect them to a happier time in their lives. Reminiscing can also be used as a form of distraction to reduce anxious behaviors if the person becomes upset.

Click here to view our selection of products specifically chosen to help trigger memories, for reminiscence therapy.

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Music Therapy

Music is a valuable communication tool for reminiscing and can be used as a form of therapy or just for the pure enjoyment of listening. Music therapy is used by many professionals to maintain health and promote well being in people of any age or ability, and it does not require a long attention span making it suitable for people with Dementia.

Everyone has memories connected to a favorite song or songs. Some memories might transport us back to childhood, some may take us to a different time or place and some will just brighten our day, relax and stimulate us. Even in later stages of Dementia, the person can still enjoy familiar songs, and certain music can often trigger memories and emotions. People in later stages of Dementia often remember the lyrics of songs that they may not have heard for years. A person with Dementia who is unable to string a sentence together, and stumbles to find the right words might sing along to a familiar old song without hesitation. Perhaps they can play a musical instrument? It doesn’t matter how well, so long as they are enjoying the moment. A pair of maracas, tambourine or other hand held instruments can be used in a group setting (at church, family gathering, nursing home) to let them keep to the beat of recorded music.

Click here to view our selection of music CD’ss and DVD’s chosen specifically for people with Dementia.

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Child Representation/Doll Therapy

When it comes to emotional needs, people with Dementia are no different than the rest of us. We all have emotional needs that we need to have fulfilled. We need to:

  • feel needed and useful
  • be given opportunity to care
  • have our self-esteem boosted
  • love and be loved
  • express our emotions freely

Often, for people with Dementia, these emotional needs are unfulfilled and when these needs are not met, people with Dementia have a tendency to revert back to a time when significant people, places, objects or situations fulfilled their emotional needs.

Child Representation or Doll Therapy can help to fulfill these emotional needs and improve the overall well being of people with Dementia. Many people in the middle or advanced stages of Dementia will take to Dolls as they see them as their own children back in a time when they were nurturing and caring for their children. Studies have shown that the effects of Child Representation/Doll Therapy for people who have progressed past the early stages of Dementia can be quite remarkable, however the debate on using doll therapy in Dementia care still incites conflicting views amongst those involved in their care.

Those in support of this therapy have likely had positive experiences of the symbolic meaning that a doll has provided to the person with Dementia and the sense of purpose, nurture and healing it gives to them. Those with opposing views may think that dolls are childish, demeaning, and infantilise people with Dementia, derived upon their own logical and rational interpretations of how, they themselves would feel if they were the person with Dementia walking around with a Doll. People in the early stages of Dementia may also have the ability to think in this same logical and rational way, however as the Dementia progresses beyond the early stages, the person’s way of thinking changes dramatically.

They will lose their memory and their ability to think logically and rationally. They will also lose their social inhibitions, and as a result of this decline, their beliefs and values as they used to be, will no longer be important. They will have no memories of the past and no expectations of the future. They will live only in the moment. Although we don’t like to think of our loved ones as children, as the disease progresses, people in the middle to late stages of Dementia inevitably regress to a childlike (not childish) manner as a result of the deterioration of the brain and decline in cognition.

The benefits of this therapy for people with Dementia may be:

  • Speaking directly to a doll stimulates cognition and enables words to flow more easily promoting correct sentence structure.
  • The ability to care provides an enjoyable and stimulating activity that utilises past learned skills.
  • Dolls help to stimulate memories and provide an opportunity to reminisce.
  • Dolls provide opportunities for nurturing, boosting self-esteem, and to feel needed and useful.
  • Dolls reduce agitation, anxiety, feelings of loss and insecurity.
  • Dolls may help reduce the need for psychotropic medication for behaviour modification.

Whatever your views, undoubtedly, you want the best for the person in your care. Jane Verity, author, founder and CEO of Dementia Care Australia says that the way to assess whether Child Representation/Doll Therapy is acceptable to the person or persons in your care is to apply the following philosophy.

  1. Do unto others as you would like done unto you.
  2. Change the way you think. Ask yourself, ‘How will the person respond to this activity’ not ‘What activity will this person respond to’?
  3. When deciding if Child Representation/Doll Therapy is appropriate, seek participation from the person with Dementia by letting them demonstrate if they enjoy interacting with the doll. People with Dementia will respond instantly and without hesitation with feedback on what you do and say.
  4. Read their eyes for a genuine indicator and response to the doll.
  5. Ask yourself, if the person reacts positively to the doll or in any way that shows enjoyment as a result of the doll, such as smiling or speaking in a gentle, loving tone to the doll, how can we say the activity is not acceptable?

When choosing a doll, it is recommended that the doll is as life-like as possible with a happy face and open sparkling eyes. A happy smiling doll will bring out the best in a person with dementia. If you choose a sleeping doll, it may cause distress if the person is concerned that they are unable to wake the doll and may think it is dead.

Click here to view our beautiful selection of dolls specifically recommended in the use of doll therapy for people with Dementia.

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Art Therapy

Art therapy provides a valuable contribution to quality Dementia care by allowing people with Dementia, whose language skills have been impaired, to express their feelings and increase self-esteem through the language of pictures or words. Art therapy may be undertaken through drawings and colorings, through creating collages of magazine images, or through objects of colored or textured figures and shapes.

With art therapy, it is important to remember that it is not a matter of giving the person with Dementia some paint and paper and then leaving the room. You must stay with them and encourage them, by starting the conversation through pictures and words. Engaging in art allows friends and family to connect with their loved one with Dementia.

If they are able, participating in visual art experiences can be an enjoyable experience for people with Dementia. Many museums have set up special programs for people with special needs and their carers. While Dementia destroys the areas of the brain that are associated with memory and planning complex tasks, the areas of the brain responsible for emotion and in aesthetic enjoyment remain intact for a lot longer.

Click here to view our products suitable for Art Therapy.

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Pet Therapy

Animals are a very important part in the lives of many of us and are a source of companionship and support. Pet therapy can have a remarkable impact on the quality of life of people living with Dementia. Interaction with animals can drastically reduce feelings of loneliness, especially in people who have had pets all their lives. Pet therapy can also provide motivational, recreational, and socialization benefits and decrease behavioral problems in people with dementia. Having them walk or play catch with a dog will also encourage physical activity and exercise.

It is important to remember that pet therapy may not benefit everyone. Although pet therapy may have a positive effect on animal lovers, it can just as easily have a negative effect on those who do not particularly like animals.

If you are considering pet visitation for someone with Dementia living in a nursing home, remember to first obtain permission from the nursing home. In most instances, your participation will be encouraged and greatly appreciated by both the nursing home and the residents.

Click here to view our Pet Therapy resources!

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The information published on this website is cited from the resources noted in the website bibliography.