Cats and Birds for People with Dementia

People with dementia

Picture this… Granny with Sylvester and Tweety bird… That is how I see this article’s title. Since this week’s #DMSHealth chat topic is “Pets & Dementia” I wanted to investigate a little further than the obvious and search for benefits of cats and birds for people with dementia. Not everyone is a dog lover, and this is something important to keep in mind when considering getting a pet for a person with dementia. A dog could easily trigger bad memories rather than fond thoughts of childhood with the family’s cat. So it might be best to make sure what type of pet is best for the person living with dementia.

A care home in Southbury, Connecticut uses bird watching as a program to help lift the spirit of their residents affected with dementia. A program that came as a solution in a search for ways to improve the quality of life of their dementia residents. The program is called “Bird Tales” and focuses on training nursing staff to attract birds to their grounds and get Alzheimer’s patients involved in bird watching. Rangy Griffin, registered nurse and co-creator of Bird Tales now visits four nursing homes in Connecticut, all of these facilities have modified their lawn to be more organic to help attract different bird species. She also offers the residents pictures of all types of birds and stuffed bird models that recreate the sound of the real birds when they are squeezed. All care homes have seen a reduction on the amount of medication required to relax any agitated patients which marks the good results of Bird Tales.

Research has concluded many times that pets are good for any of us, providing many health benefits either emotionally or physically. Cats are pets that forge a special bond with those who they recognize as their owners, most are not so friendly but will devote themselves to their “carers”. They can easily purr their way into an Alzheimer’s or any other dementia patient’s heart. They can be a good companion and help trigger emotions to bring down any stress levels to a point in which they can be open to communicate with other people. Cats can often be known for being spoiled by their owner and be jealous of any other object that could distract their owners attention, and somehow that special connection lets them know that their special person needs a special kind of love. It is an amazing moment when a cat purring on their lap can evoke a smile and a positive response.

Here are a couple of things to consider before getting a pet for a dementia patient:

  • Keep in mind the patient’s “taste” in regards to pets and what animal triggers positive outcomes.
  • The pet’s temperament is an important aspect to consider. A jumpy cat or a bird that should be kept in a bigger cage may do more harm than good.
  • Stay alert on the patient’s demeanor around the pet. If there are signs of over stimulation it might be best to take “Sylvester” or “Tweety bird” to a different room.
  • Get informed, there are organizations with specialized pet trainers for special cases like this.
  • Check your community for any pet-friendly groups that could be beneficial for the person with dementia. Which is also a good excuse to get the patient out of the house and socialize.

Cats and birds for people with dementia can help bring that sense of joyfulness to your home. Many of the funny things they do can provoke even the slightest hint of a smile.

Related Read:

Animal caregivers: What are the benefits of pet therapy in dementia?