Keep Your Pets Close: How Animals Help Dementia
Super carers article
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.