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How Can Pets Benefit Alzheimer's?

Ann Napoletan
By Ann NapoletanSeptember 4, 2017

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. Bad or good days, rain or shine, my little buddy will be beside himself with excitement to welcome me home.

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 about how pets can not only provide companionship, but also reduce anxiety and depression in those with Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s and Pets

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. Excessive barking or jumping 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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Ann Napoletan

Ann Napoletan

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