Keep Your Pets Close: How Animals Help Dementia

Pets can help to stabilise our blood pressure, reduce stress and feelings of loneliness, and even improve our overall physical and emotional wellbeing. Find out how pets can help those living with dementia.

When someone is diagnosed with dementia, it is often assumed that keeping their beloved pet is impossible. This is not necessarily the case. Studies have shown that pets have actually been known to increase the health of those with dementia while providing them with a friend to spend their time with. Owning a cute and cuddly companion can even be an essential part of their daily routine. Before jumping to any conclusions, it may be beneficial to review all of your options when it comes to this important decision.

How to Determine if a Pet Can Be Kept?

An unexpected diagnosis can be frightening or difficult, and some might discover that they want their pet to remain by their side. After considering the following factors, you may find that there are other alternatives to immediately giving up a best friend.

1. Stage of Dementia

The first thing that must be considered is the current stage of dementia. An individual in the early stages of illness is typically more capable of taking care of a pet than someone in a later stage or who has had dementia for years. A recent article by Unforgettable states, “if [the dementia is] still quite early on, they will probably be able to continue as normal.” Analyse your individual situation and determine how severe the symptoms are.

2. Type of Pet

The type of pet will also play a role in this decision. The easier it is to take care of an animal, the more likely it will be that the pet can remain at home. Hamsters, dogs, and cats are great examples of pets that have provided love and care for people with dementia.

3. Work and Effort

The amount of work and effort required to take care of the pet is also important to keep in mind. “if it’s a well-loved cat or calm dog that is low-maintenance and doesn’t require much more than plenty of love and cuddles, then it could be more helpful to keep the pet rather than cause the trauma of removing the pet,” Unforgettable reports. Examine the circumstances you are in and how easy or difficult it is to provide for your animal. No one knows them better than you do.

4. Is the Pet Wanted?

One question that must be asked, however, is whether or not the owner wants to keep the pet. While there are many benefits to having them around, every case is different. Sometimes an animal can be a source of annoyance or stress for a person with dementia, depending on all of the above factors. Be mindful of the wants and needs of both the owner and the pet, and make informed decisions that are best for everyone involved.

Alternatives to Keeping a Pet Full-time

In these cases when a person with dementia does not want to take care of a pet themselves or is no longer capable of doing so, consider if a family or friend is willing to accept the responsibility. If an adored bunny or loving kitten can remain nearby and come for visits, it can still be extremely beneficial.

Another article regarding the effect of pet visits on Alzheimer’s patients by Ann Napoletan states, “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.”

Some helpful tips to remember when taking a pet for a visit:

  • Call or plan visits ahead of time so that pets are expected and are more likely to be met with a warm welcome.

  • It is suggested that visiting in the morning or early afternoon is the best time of day, when those with dementia are not too tired.

  • Try to keep visits to a reasonable length of time and be aware of when you have overstayed your welcome.

  • Make the best of the time you have but remember that you can always come back another day.

If You Have to Say Good-Bye

If the pet absolutely cannot be kept, consider visits from other animals. This is a great way to still receive the positive effects of an animal visit and keep the memory of a pet close at heart. Here are a couple companies that offer pet therapy services and the benefits they can provide.

  • Pets As Therapy (PAT): National charity that conducts pet visits throughout the year and provides research on the subject of pet therapy.

  • Therapy Dogs Nationwide: National organisation and Registered Charity that provides therapy dog services and visits to various places around the U.K.

Positive Effects of Pets

There are many positive effects that owning or visiting with a pet can have on people with dementia. Below are listed several examples of ways that pets have improved behaviour and health.

  • Animals make great topics of conversation. Everyone loves to talk about their favourite pet, and those with dementia have been known to light up at funny stories about the neighbourhood puppy.

  • The presence of pets has been known to help with memory, especially with those who have owned pets previously. People with short-term memory loss tend to recall the animals that visit them, asking owners how the pet has been doing and contributing happily to the conversation by discussing pets they have had in the past.

  • Spending time with pets helps combat loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression. Animals make great companions that offer unconditional love and attention. Their close proximity can boost self-esteem and create a bright environment to live in.

  • Pets also help those with dementia stay calm and feel relaxed. The actual act of petting or stroking an animal can bring peace and comfort. There are also records of dogs that have visited care homes and taken naps with residents, helping them to sleep. “This shows the importance of animal interaction helping people to relax, reducing stress and emphasises the importance and benefits of being tactile with a pet can bring,” says Rachel Baker in her article regarding this subject.

  • Animal visits encourage exercise and cause bursts of energy. People with dementia tend to feel more inclined to get up and move about when it means spending time with their furry friends. Spending short periods of time playing with pets or getting outside and going on walks can go a long way.

  • These visits can give those with dementia something to do and something to look forward to. Taking care of pets, feeding them, talking to them, training them, all of these activities liven their day and make it more enjoyable. And incorporating the animals into their daily life can provide a set routine for their day.

Pets provide love, laughter, and light to the lives of people everyday. If you or someone you know is diagnosed with dementia, remain informed and evaluate your personal situation before you give up these wonderful members of your family. And if you must say good-bye, remember that there are other ways to incorporate animal interactions into your life.

Written by Celia Monroe

References

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