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A New Breed of Dementia Care: Benefits of Pets in Alzheimer’s Facilities

Alzheimer’s facilities with therapy pets may be more beneficial for seniors

You are probably aware of service dogs being used to assist humans with disabilities ranging from deafness and blindness to social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.  But did you know that the mental, emotional, and physical benefits of service dogs apply to seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia? Companion and service pets have become integrated into the care plans of Alzheimer’s facilities as a result.

Companion pets and service dogs can be beneficial for dementia and Alzheimer’s facilities residents because interacting with the animals is cognitively and tactile stimulating. This means that petting, walking, or simply being around animals engages a senior’s mental and physical abilities. For seniors with dementia, continuing to work with as many senses as they can is incredibly important. Interacting with a therapy pet is a natural, comfortable way to exercise a variety of senses.

Benefits of Pets for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Patients

According to independent Alzheimer’s disease research, therapy pets can reignite the interest of a patient in the world around them [Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation]. Many seniors in Alzheimer’s facilities may become withdrawn, disinterested, and even depressed. While human interaction may seem intimidating or overwhelming, the unconditional love of an animal is welcoming to seniors with dementia.

A pet is a natural companion and always a good listener – they are unconcerned with memory loss and hearing the same story over and over. Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease may feel compelled to talk to pets, which is healthy and encouraged.

Therapy pets or service dogs may invoke happy familiar memories for seniors who feel as if their entire world is changing. Similar to music therapy, which uses sounds to bring back feelings of happiness, therapy pets can remind them of pets they once had. For seniors in Alzheimer’s facilities, residents often seek the comfort of familiar places, objects, and people they once knew. A pet becomes a new familiar friend of sorts, one that provides companionship and joy.

In addition to the numerous mental benefits of service pets, trained pets can also offer physical assistance. A therapy dog can physically support an owner that has trouble balancing while walking, going up stairs, or sitting down.

Alzheimer’s facilities with resident therapy pets, such as cats, dogs, or birds, can be a meaningful way for senior residents to interact with one another. The behavioral issues that come with dementia, including aggressiveness and anger, may be eased by caring for a creature with other residents. While favorite movies and hobbies are no longer daily conversations for seniors with dementia, the daily presence of a resident therapy pet becomes a communal joy.

Finding the Right Pet

Determining what type of pet will be a good therapy or service animal for a senior with dementia can be tricky. An ideal therapy pet enjoys being petted and can adapt to the mood changes of seniors with dementia. For active pets, such as dogs, it is important that they are well-trained to follow commands. Cats and birds that are more independent can offer companionship and mental benefits without the training a dog may require.

Alzheimer’s facilities that keep resident pets offer the dementia care benefits pet therapy provides without the responsibility of caring for a pet independently. Moving into a long-term memory care facility can be a difficult transition for seniors with Alzheimer’s. The familiarity and comfort that only a companion pet can provide may ease this transition.

To learn more about how pets can benefit Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, please call ComfortCare Homes in Wichita, KS at (316) 444-0532.

ComfortCare Homes of Wichita, KS provides memory care services to the following cities and neighborhoods: Wichita, Derby, Augusta, El Dorado, Newton, Hutchinson, Pretty Prairie, Kingman, Norwich, Conway Springs, Belle Plaine, and the surrounding areas of Kansas.

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