Receiving a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s is never easy, but many effective, non-traditional methods of treatment are emerging. Utilizing pet therapy in the care of people living with dementia is a relatively new phenomenon, but both patients and their caretakers are seeing amazing results in improved mood, independence, confidence and overall quality of life
Whether it’s a big floppy dog, a bird, a cat, or even a fish aquarium, there are numerous ways a pet can make a big difference in the daily life of those with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Here are a few of those benefits:
Multiple studies have cited benefits of living with a pet or having regular visits with a favorite pet, including reduced anxiety, agitation, irritability, depression and loneliness. People with dementia are at risk for developing depression, which can further compromise their functioning and quality of life, but research has shown that involving patients in activities with dogs decreased their feelings of anxiety and sadness and increased physical activity and positive emotions. Sessions with therapy dogs can reignite the interest of a dementia patient in the world around them. Some patients have even smiled, spoken or taken a genuine interest for the first time in years upon meeting or getting to know a therapy dog.
By their friendliness and non-threatening manner, pets can help a dementia patient be more interactive, even when they are not able to interact in social settings with other adults.
Dogs are born listeners, and they don’t mind hearing the same stories repeated over and over. Patients who may be in the later stages of the disease and who are having extreme memory difficulties, find comfort and gain confidence in socializing and communicating with dogs and other pets.
One study placed aquariums in a facility and found that residents had increased nutritional intake and weight gain, which might be explained by the patients’ improved mood. In the case of a dog or cat, and depending on the patient’s mobility and living environment, he or she may be able to groom the animal, toss a ball, or even go for a short walk.
The researchers found that with the addition of a dog to a facility’s Alzheimer’s unit, the residents’ challenging behaviors significantly decreased during the day. Pets can ease the symptoms of “Sundowners Syndrome,” a condition that typically occurs in the evening when dementia patients become confused by changes in their environment and agitated by nightly routines. It can be difficult for caretakers in assisted-living facilities to find ways of soothing these patients, but therapy dogs have a way of instilling a sense of calm in them.
Covenant Care has a 30-year legacy of supporting those with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. To learn more, please visit choosecovenant.org/services/alzheimers.