Dementia and Pet Therapy
There’s a lot of buzz about pet therapy for dementia patients and with good reason. People with dementia often feel isolated, depressed and lonely, so it makes sense that therapy involving companion animals would be a good fit. In fact, pets have far more to offer than clever antics and fuzzy bodies: they’re good for a person’s health.
Recent studies have shown that pets improve our physical and mental health in a number of ways. They reduce stress, alleviate depression, reduce blood pressure, and can even alleviate chronic pain. Stroking a pet releases endorphins, reading to dogs helps children become more confident readers with lower levels of anxiety, horses help people with PTSD, and classroom pets help children with autism become more social and less stressed. Even crickets have proven beneficial for the elderly: elderly people became less depressed after eight weeks of caring for five crickets in a cage. There’s something about interaction with living animals that makes a difference in people’s lives.
What does this mean for patients with dementia? There are many known benefits to interaction between dementia patients and animals. Researchers recently observed interaction between a group of adults with Alzheimer’s with and without the presence of the dog. According to their findings, there was more interactive behavior when the dog was present, and the patients showed progress in other areas as well.
- The presence of a dog reduced agitation in dementia patients.
- It’s beneficial for patients to be able to groom an animal, throw a ball or go on a walk.
- Dementia patients had a better appetite and ate more after a dog visited.
- Simply the presence of a dog brings pleasure to patients with dementia.
The dogs in question were service dogs, but even personal pets can have a positive impact. While it’s not a good idea to buy a pet for a dementia patient, visiting pets may be beneficial with a few caveats.
- Only well-behaved dogs need apply. A rowdy, barking dog is not going to help anyone feel better. Consider the temperament and training of any animal you bring to interact with a person with dementia.
- Be mindful of the schedule. Mornings and early afternoons may be a better time for a pet to visit than late afternoon or evening.
- Be prepared for mixed results. People with dementia can be unpredictable. One day, the person might respond favorably to the animal, while on another day they might show no interest. Don’t be discouraged, and if it seems to have been helpful at some point, give it another shot.
- Pay attention to cues from both the animal and the person. It’s easy for those with dementia to become overstimulated, and pets can sometimes become anxious in unfamiliar surroundings. If anyone involved in the visit seems anxious or agitated, it may be time to call it a day and try again some other time.
Caring for an elderly loved one with dementia can be challenging, but Elder Care Connections has the resources to help. We’re a boutique-style agency committed to helping people find the right care for their loved ones. We pride ourselves on helping you find a caregiver who is not only capable but also compatible with your loved one’s personality. Contact us for an in-home evaluation or to learn about all we have to offer.