How Can Pets Benefit Alzheimer’s?

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.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 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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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.

  • Juanita Richards

    My dad has Alzhiemers and his 4 year old cat is rejecting him. She is depressed and anxious and it upsets dad. She sleeps all day and night, never purrs and does not interact with him or me, who is dads caregiver. She is now sleeping a lot in her litter box since dad shut her out of the spare room, where she went to hide from people. She has started going to the toilet on the shower floor when the litter box is right next to the shower. She has been locked in the house her whole life and dads hoarders house has the windows nailed shut,he is so terrified someone will leave a window open and let her out. She is very lethargic but still eating well. I wonder if the changes in dads personality have also affected her. I’m urging dad to get an outdoor cat run made for her but he doesn’t understand or want to spend the money on it.

    • Ali Gori

      Find a PROPER HOME for the cat for chrissakes.

  • Ali Gori

    What a crock. NO WAY should Memory Care residents have pets in their room. Do these people even know what they’re talking about? Eating cat litter, choking the cat, letting it escape etc etc etc

  • jane_weed

    My 80-year-old mother has doted on her mini dachshund since adopting her 5 years ago. My brother and I have made significant efforts to support our mother keeping the dog because it means so much to her. Mother has lived with the dog for the past 3 months in assisted living. Staff has provided some help in walking the dog but it’s not been consistent. Last night my mother called me and asked me to come take the dog. She’s decided that the dog needs a better life. I am proud of my mom for being able to act selflessly, but also sad that she is giving up this little dog, who has been by her side and provided companionship and comfort as she’s developed Alzheimer’s. I am going to try to place the dog with someone who will bring it by to visit my mom as long as she’ll benefit from such visits.

  • arturo flores

    We went to difficult times when my father in law died and 2 years after him my mother in law die we adopted a chihuahCh dog five years ago and when all this happen we never felt alone and she make us happy every day so they really help any person.

  • Maria tang

    I am finding the dog causing more problems than not as I have to take over more and ore responsibility of the dog. My MiL with dementia resents not being able to sleep with the dog , because she would try to walk it at 2am, and now can’t walk the dog due to tripping and falling , trying to force feed it with a fork, so do I keep it with the extra burden? And the anger from my mil because I am keeping the dog from her? She treats it like her child and loves it very much

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