Pets are a loveable addition to our homes. They become members of the family with their own individual personalities, full of love and affection for their owners.
When people have a condition such as dementia, it is harder to keep pets in the house as they need looking after, which can be a big responsibility when living with this disease. However, this can be heart-breaking if dogs have always been a massive part of your life.
The Alzheimer’s Society suggests that people with dementia can feel a better connection with animals than with other humans due to the fact that dogs respond to body language while human communication can be over-reliant on words. Have you ever felt sad and your pet instinctively goes up to you to comfort you? The animal is good at reading your mood. This is what people with dementia need: non-judgemental love and affection from a friendly animal.
What is pet therapy?
Put simply, pet therapy is spending time with an animal. It doesn’t have to involve formal exercises. Just spending time with an animal provides all sorts of benefits. However, some activities, such as picking up a ball and passing it to a dog can bring physical health benefits. It is believed that having an animal around can promote calmer behaviour and encourage people to eat more.
Although the scientific evidence in the area of Animal Assisted Therapy is limited, so far, studies are promising.
As well as cardio-vascular improvement and mood enhancement, therapies involving pets, or even just having an animal in the home, has been known to increase balance, decrease cases of sundowning, reduce feelings of loneliness and help people eat.
Examples of Therapy Pets for Dementia
The Evening Express relates how adopting a pet therapy dog as part of the Dementia Dogs project in Scotland has given a new lease of life to Jon, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2016. The addition of the canine friend was the suggestion of Jon’s psychiatrist and has provided a wealth of physical and emotional benefits. Having the new family member has meant more walks around his local city of Aberdeen and creating lots of happy memories for Jon and his wife Jeanette. The clever pup Lenny is also trained to bring Jon his medication at specific times so he remembers to take his tablets.
Volunteer-led activities involving therapy pets area springing up nationwide. “Walk with Ralph” has recently been introduced to Richmond in London, and involves a monthly stroll with therapy dog Ralph. Ralph is joined on his walk by people living with dementia and their carers and participants are encouraged to stroke and pet him.
This Is Local London reports that “leading a physically active life – even in the latter stages of the [dementia] diagnosis, can have a significant impact on the person’s well-being”. Indeed, walking dogs can only have a positive impact on most of us.
What if I can’t get a real pet?
If you’ve got a loved one who you believe might benefit from pet therapy but you don’t want to get them a live pet, there is another option. Life-like “Joy for All” companion pets have been shown to demonstrate similar advantages to real pets. Offering companionship, these robots move and make sounds. Due to built-in sensors, they even respond to touch. A toy dog or cat can relieve stress and anxiety and has helped lower doses of pain medications and psychoactive medications for old-age dementia.
If your loved one is experiencing depression, heightened anxiety or loneliness and they have previously enjoyed having animals about the house, pet therapy could be a good option for improving their mood.
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