How Can Pets Benefit Alzheimer’s Patients?

No matter how unpredictable the day has been, I can count on one absolute constant in my life.  When I walk in the door, my sweet Yorkie will greet me as if we’ve been apart for months instead of hours! Bad or good days, rain, or shine, my little buddy will be beside himself with excitement to welcome me home.How Can Pets Benefit Alzheimer's?

Let’s face it, even on a lousy day it’s nearly impossible not to smile at the sight an ear-to-ear doggy smile and wildly wagging tail. Learn more this National Pet Month about how pets can not only provide companionship, but also reduce anxiety and depression in those with Alzheimer’s.

Pets and Alzheimer’s

Researchers have long suggested that pets are good for us, even offering health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and heart rate, reducing the stress hormone cortisol, and boosting levels of the feel-good hormone, serotonin. It stands to reason, then, that finding four-legged friends in Alzheimer’s and dementia communities is becoming commonplace. In fact, some facilities are hiring pet coordinators to aid in the care of residents’ pets.

Anyone who owns a cat or dog can attest to the beauty of their unconditional love, and animals often forge a special connection with people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. My mom had a cat for a number of years, and their bond was inexplicable.  Holly wore a perpetually annoyed expression on her feline face and loathed most humans, yet she never left my mom’s side; as much as she detested being picked up, that darn cat would even let Mom carry her around like a rag doll. It never failed to amaze me.

Somehow, Holly knew that her special person needed a special kind of love.

How Pets Benefit Alzheimer’s Patients

While companionship is an obvious benefit, a well-timed pet visit may also help with anxiety and depression. It’s not uncommon to watch someone transition from emotionless to joyful when a pet enters the room, especially if it triggers pleasant memories.

However, it is important to also keep in mind that the opposite reaction could occur as well.

If you’re considering taking your pet for a visit, check with the community first to see if there are any limitations. Once you get the green light, here are a few suggestions that might help make for a positive experience:

  1. Be mindful of the pet’s temperament and energy level. Too much jumping and/or excessive barking may do more harm than good.
  2. Consider time of day. Morning or early afternoon visits are probably better choices than late afternoon and evening when Sundowner’s is setting in.
  3. Don’t wear out Fido’s welcome. Always stay tuned in to your loved one’s demeanor, as they can quickly reach a point of overstimulation. If they begin to show signs of agitation, simply know that it might be time to end the visit.
  4. Realize that Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are unpredictable when it comes to pets. When I took Tucker in to visit Mom, some days she laughed and couldn’t get enough of him, while other days she made it clear that she had no interest. On a really bad day, she found him downright annoying.

Finding Pets that Benefit Alzheimer’s

There are many resources for those families interested in companion pets that benefit Alzheimer’s:

Many local and regional shelters offer special programs to match seniors with the pet that’s just right for them. If you’re considering going this route, there are many things to consider including whether or not your loved one can care for the pet properly.

You can also contact us today for more information about pet friendly Alzheimer’s and dementia care communities. Our Senior Living Advisors can help families find communities that accept pets and meet all their needs.

Have you had experience with pets that benefit Alzheimer’s? Share your stories and suggestions with us in the comments below.

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Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • Peggy Coffey

    I have 2 Weimaraner and my father has Alzeheimers and lives with us. His doctors are amazed at how slowly the disease has progressed and I tell them it’s probably our dogs. We go for walks every day, and he brushes them and helps me feed them. They in turn, are very gentle with him and follow him everywhere. He always has at least one dog with him. As big as they are, they stay right next to him and even go into his room to wake him up in the morning. I would take them with me when they were puppies, to visit my mother. She had been diagnosed with Alzeheimers but had to be placed in a speciality facility. The clients loved them and people that were not vocal always asked to see the pups.

    • I’m so glad you’re father has your dogs to provide love and comfort. There is something magical about the bond that is formed, and how much they help the symptoms that can be so challenging as a caregiver.

  • My mum has Vascular Dementia & Alzheimer’s. She has always been an animal lover and has never been without pets. She has only one cat now … a Siamese x Ragdoll but he is the love of her life and is a great comfort to her. Ive done research on Therapies that can help those with Dementia / Alzheimers … as well as Pet Therapy, we use Music Therapy and Art Therapy in our daily routine … I believe with all three, not just her quality of life … but mine as a caregiver has been greatly improved.

    • I love that you have given your mother the gift of music, art and animals. It truly is about quality, and anything that brings comfort to them translates into an easier time as a caregiver.

  • I worked as a caregiver in both adult foster and memory care for years. I was able to bring my AKC Good Canine Citizen Japanese Chin to work with me. Stewie naturally gravitated to residents who often had the most problematic dementia related behaviors.
    After just weeks of exposure, these residents bonded closely with him, and thus had a decrease in anxiety, depression, physical aggression, and emotional outbursts, and an increase in appetite, social skills, physical activity and overall well being, including reduction in some medications.
    Stewie will comfort those and their families during the active dying stage, and after a resident dies, will not cross the threshold into their rooms until I carry him across and comfort him.
    This past year, I decided to start working for myself, and thus, “Turner & Pooch Dementia Care Solutions LLC” was born.
    I can now focus on Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) and creating one on on bonds for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Our presence in the lives of memory care also helps the caregivers who are often overworked and understaffed, by keeping a resident who is often easily escalated distracted, happy and engaged. This alone helps the facility remain in a state of calm instead of chaos that accompanies easily agitated persons.

    Turner& Pooch Dementia Care Solutions LLC.

    • caitlinburm

      That is such a beautiful and inspiring photo and story. Thank you so much for sharing, Keri!

      • Thank you for reading. My hope is for more people to use this therapy, as it truly brings comfort to those who are in the crippling disease of Alzheimer’s.

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