If you are reading this, chances are you’re a pet lover, and what’s not to love about dogs?! The benefits of owning a dog are numerous; they are affectionate, endlessly loyal, they make you laugh, they help keep you fit and healthy and they make a house a home. All in all, they are an incredibly rewarding pet and loving companion. And this can be the case for people with Alzheimer’s too.
The health benefits of pets
First, let’s look at some of the health benefits of having a pet dog;
Boosting the feel-good hormone serotonin
Lower blood pressure which is good for the heart
Alleviate anxiety and depression
Pet contact for people with Alzheimer’s
It is no wonder then that pets have started making an appearance in Alzheimer’s communities and care homes. Many Alzheimer’s patients may suffer with anxiety and depression, as well as agitation and irritability, these symptoms can be hard to manage for everyone involved. Pet contact can work wonders for helping combat these symptoms. Having a non-judgemental and loving companion to stroke and talk to can really help to calm and settle (your loved one).
Owning a pet versus pet visits
Some Alzheimer and dementia communities are now employing pet co-ordinators to support the care of the residents’ pets. If you are looking to move a loved one into assisted living so their Alzheimer’s is better cared for, it is possible to ask the care home if they offer such programs or if they allow you to bring your own dogs for visits.
However, for individuals in the more advanced stages of Alzheimer’s who may still be living at home, owning a pet may be difficult or even impossible. Dogs of course demand a lot more from their owners than cats, in this instance a cat could be more suitable. Alternatively, if you own a pet and are a friend or relative of someone with Alzheimer’s, taking your pet over for a visit if possible would have a positive impact.
Less is more
It is important to keep in mind that pets can sometimes have the opposite effect and cause overstimulation as a result of excessive energy, barking or jumping. If you are taking your pet to visit your loved one, make sure that your pet is settled. Be sure also to be attuned to your loved ones mood and demeanour. It is possible that your loved one could fluctuate between being very receptive and full of joy in the presence of your pet to losing interest altogether. It can help in this instance to consider the time of day when your loved one is usually at their most relaxed and time your visits accordingly.
A different kind of pet
For people with Alzheimer’s, pet therapy is so incredibly beneficial that it has inspired the creation of robotic pets. These delightful animatronic dogs and cats could be a perfect solution for those that are no longer able to look after a pet, and for whom the option of a pet visit is not possible. This way, the person with Alzheimer’s can enjoy all the wonderful pet benefits that so help alleviate symptoms, bringing joy, love and companionship into their lives, without the need for any maintenance.
Article by: Jane Anderson, a freelance writer, editor and dog owner