Memory Mondays: Pet Therapy and Dementia

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Dogs have long been considered man’s best friend, and new research reveals canine companions may greatly reduce the risk of premature death. Beyond companionship, though, dogs and other animals can have a significant impact when you pair pet therapy and dementia.

Research suggests that pets offer health benefits like:

– Lowering blood pressure and heart rates

– Reducing stress

– Boosting serotonin levels

It makes sense, then, that pet therapy works so well to lower anxiety and depression in those with Alzheimer’s. Animals often forge a special connection with people who have dementia, and they may even trigger joyous memories. Some programs have noted improvements in appetite, social interaction, and cognitive stimulation among people with dementia, as well.

Despite these clear benefits, it’s important to take care when experimenting with pet therapy and dementia. These suggestions from may help facilitate a more positive experience.

– Pay attention to the pet’s personality and energy. An over-excitable dog may do more harm than good.

– Consider when you visit. The time of day you choose to implement therapy can make or break the visit. Mornings and early afternoons are best, whereas late afternoon and evening are riskier, given the struggles those with dementia tend to face as the day wears on.

– Don’t wear out your welcome. Pay attention to the behavior of people with dementia to avoid overstimulation. If agitation becomes apparent, then it may be time to leave.

– Remember that Alzheimer’s and dementia can be unpredictable. Some days, people with dementia may love interactions with pets, and others, they have no interest in the animal at all. Don’t force it – instead, adhere to the present circumstances.

While pet therapy and dementia is a fairly new endeavor, therapy pets are not. They have been used for years to help humans with different disabilities, from blindness to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now, there are many resources for companion pets that benefit Alzheimer’s, too. Recently, a charity called Dementia Dog Project was launched in Scotland with the mission to pair trained dogs with people who have dementia. And local and regional shelters typically have special programs to match seniors with the perfect pet for them – but be mindful of whether the pet can be cared for properly in this scenario.

Whatever route individuals or families choose, one things is clear: testing out the waters with pet therapy and dementia can yield tremendous results, if approached in a thoughtful manner.