There has been a special relationship between people and animals for a long time that continues to this day. Animals have constantly provided people with unconditional support, comfort, companionship, and loyalty that our fellow humans can’t seem to offer in the same way. Therefore, it’s no wonder why dogs have long been seen as some of the best companions for seniors suffering from health challenges, including dementia.
That’s where pet therapy comes into play. If you want to know what pet therapy is and the how it can help seniors who have dementia, then keep reading.
What Is Pet Therapy?
Animal therapy or pet therapy uses animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, and ponies to help people cope with and recover from physical or mental health conditions, such as dementia. These animals can help to comfort their elderly owners, alert others if they’re in danger, or perform specific tasks for them.
Suffering from dementia can be an irritable, anxious, and uncomfortable experience that can make seniors suffering from it feel alone and on edge. However, a 2019 study on Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) revealed that AAT releases an automatic relaxation response, reduces anxiety, contributes to the lowering of loneliness, and helps memory recall.
What Traits Should Therapy Animals Have?
Dogs are a common choice for a therapy animal. When picking a breed for a senior suffering from dementia, you want that breed to have a few traits.
- A friendly disposition
- A love of physical touch
- Easy to train
This is why dog breeds such as the adorable Cavachon are so popular for the job. These gentle-natured dogs have a sweet disposition that makes them perfect therapy and emotional support dogs. They are also low maintenance and small in size, making it easy for individuals with dementia to take care of them.
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How Therapy Animals Help with Dementia
Now that you know what pet therapy is and what traits can make a dog the perfect fit for seniors, here are seven ways pets help seniors with dementia.
1. Reduce Loneliness and Depression
When your loved one has to go through constantly forgetting their memories, it can be something that can easily depress them and make them feel lonely. However, having a dog around helps soothe that loneliness and provides them with a constant companion.
Animal companionship can boost an individual’s mood by increasing serotonin, endorphin, and dopamine production, which increase positive feelings and leads to a more stable mood. Therefore, having a furry companion around will increase positive feelings and give seniors with dementia a higher quality of life.
2. Relieve Pain
Researchers have found that seniors with dementia may face increased amounts of chronic pain before and during their diagnosis. However, due to dementia’s nature of changing the brain, it becomes harder for them to relay that pain, leading to it being undertreated and brushed over.
Dogs have been known to relieve the pain seniors with dementia may feel due to their ability to increase the amount of oxytocin our bodies produce. Oxytocin can help ease headaches and muscle cramps and have anti-inflammatory properties to help close wounds faster.
3. Reduce Anxiety and Stress
Pet interaction distracts seniors with dementia from any tension, stress, or anxiety they may be feeling. Actions such as brushing, rubbing a dog, or watching them play can help release oxytocin which can induce relaxation. This will reduce the amount of stress and anxiety individuals with dementia may feel.
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4. Increase Social Interaction and Self Worth
When it comes to seniors with dementia, it’s easy for them to withdraw from social interactions with others, especially if they’re feeling disoriented. There’s no telling how long their disorientation may last, leading to them going days without wanting to interact with others.
However, seniors with dementia have a stronger affinity to wanting to be around pets, like dogs, giving them a social outlet during these times. Dogs can also benefit seniors by increasing their feeling of self-worth.
Plus, it’s easy for seniors’ self-worth to be lower as they constantly require other people to care for them. However, with pets, they have the ability to be the caregiver, which can give them a sense of worth and independence.
5. Improve Physical Health
Caring for a dog can push seniors with dementia to take actions that can improve their physical health. For example, dogs must be walked daily and played with occasionally. Giving seniors these tasks to do with their pets push them to unknowingly act out more active actions than they previously would have. Acts such as repetitively rubbing a dog can also help seniors with arthritis work their arms and hands, which can be beneficial.
6. Boost Overall Health
Besides improving physical help, having a canine companion can improve the overall health of seniors with dementia. This is because pets can help:
- Increase a senior’s willingness to go outside into the fresh air
- Improve appetite
- Lower the heart rate
- Decrease cholesterol levels
7. Promote Memory Recovery & Improve Concentration
Giving a dog to a senior who formerly had one can help them recall those memories later on. Simple actions such as walking, rubbing, or playing with their dog can help them remember past similar events, which helps promote memory recovery.
It can sometimes be hard to keep seniors with dementia focused and oriented. However, mental actions such as feeding, grooming, and communicating with a dog can help them concentrate and keep their mind engaged.
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Dementia is extremely hard on the individuals suffering from it. However, therapy dogs can help them cope with their circumstances. From helping improve overall health to reducing anxiety, loneliness, depression, and angry outbursts, giving them a dog can benefit them more than you’d ever know.
It’s easy for seniors to lose their sense of worth when they’re forced to be cared for by others. However, allowing these seniors dogs they can care for can, in turn, increases their happiness and quality of life. If your loved one has dementia, consider getting them a canine companion to help lessen their discomfort.
For more information on caring for seniors with dementia, reach out to your local Caring team. Our caregivers can also help seniors with dementia care for their pets and remain healthy, happy, and at home.