What are the benefits of pet therapy in dementia?

Pets and dementia
Chief among the benefits of pet therapy in dementia is giving the patient a reason to go on. Take for instance Vittorio De Sica’s 1952 neorealist masterpiece Umberto D., in which the aging and poverty-stricken titular character’s only company is his mutt Flike. Throughout the film the protagonist tries to get the dog to leave him so that the innocent animal can have a better life with a more prosperous owner; however, the determined little pooch refuses to abandon the old man. A most poignant scene takes place when Umberto comes close to allowing an oncoming train put both him and Flike out of their collective misery. He is unable to go through with it though, and dog and man finish the movie playing together in the park; their problems, including looming homelessness, are not resolved, but at least they still have each other.

 It is arguable whether Umberto was suffering from dementia, although there is a link between suicide, depression and dementia. The fact is that animal-assisted therapy, whether at home or in a nursing facility, can greatly improved the quality of life of a person with dementia, and in turn stave off feelings of boredom and loneliness that have the potential to degenerate into a veritable death wish. Here are some of the benefits that pet therapy has on dementia patients:

  • Improved mood.
  • Socialization.
  • Relaxing effect.
  • Fewer behavioral problems.
  • Improved nutrition.
  • Decreased agitation.
  • Mobility.
  • Joy.

Less than a year ago three separate studies were presented in Chicago highlighting the physical and emotional benefits of interaction between humans and animals. In the first study, researchers from the University of Maryland found that feeding and grooming a dog in 60 to 90 minute weekly sessions during three months improved the physical functionality of elderly adults with dementia, who were able to open and manipulate things with their hands; moreover, their depression scores improved as result. The other two studies did not focus on patients with dementia, but their results including the -ability to meet people and make friends, as well as improved social competence, self-awareness, self-management, personal responsibility, decision-making, and relationship skills- can all apply to elderly people with dementia.

One of the main goals of pet-assisted therapy is to help aging people remain as independent as possible for as long as they can, so that they can live at home or at least require lower level, lower intensive care. The idea is to take pressure off of human caregivers mentally, physically, and financially. There are several approaches to dementia and animals; nursing homes can allow visitors to bring pets, or keep themselves a resident dog or cat. Pets may also be kept at home, and not just dogs; birds, hamsters, fish, etc, can too yield the benefits of pet therapy in dementia. However, when choosing a pet consider the animal’s:

  • Temperament.
  • Strengths and weaknesses.
  • Training.
  • Certification or registration.
  • Cleanliness.
  • Infection control

Don’t be surprised if a patient who seemed to thrive in the presence of an animal appears to be disinterested at other times. We all know how Alzheimer’s patients may fail to recognize their own children; the same can happen with, say, a dog, but that doesn’t detract from the benefits of animal-assisted therapy. Stick around and read more about caregiver and dementia here at Discount Medical Supplies.

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Dealing with Anxiety and Agitation in Alzheimer's