Dementia is a chronic condition that gradually impairs memory and other cognitive functions, social behaviour and the ability to perform daily tasks. Although doctors cannot prevent disease progression with any medication, most treatments aim to reduce the patient’s psychological symptoms.
Neurologists, including Professor Marios Politis, a scientific advisor to Alzheimer’s Research organisations over the world, have been researching more effective ways of dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. One of the various new therapeutic approaches is the use of trained animals in therapy sessions, known as animal-assisted therapy (AAT).
The attached infographic includes information about things to consider before getting a pet for an Alzheimer’s patient.
Reasons Why Pet Therapy Works
Pets are a source of unconditional love for people, which is especially important for those with dementia.
Having a dog, a cat, a bird or a fish aquarium has many benefits for Alzheimer’s patients. Being in the presence of an animal can alleviate the symptoms of dementia, such as anxiety, depression and loneliness. Caring for an animal can reduce stress levels and provide dementia patients with emotional support.
The embedded short video outlines the positive effects that different animals can have on Alzheimer’s patients.
Having a pet can also provide companionship and friendship along with giving the patient a sense of purpose when taking care of the animal. Therefore, interventions involving animals frequently help dementia patients feel more confident about themselves.
Associating with animals can improve a patient’s well-being while encouraging them to be more independent. The attached PDF explains how trained therapy dogs can improve the lives of dementia patients at home.
These animal interactions also aid in memory if a person with dementia once owned a pet. Many Alzheimer’s patients, even among those who have issues with short-term memory, can confidently narrate stories about their younger lives when they had a pet.
An example of pet therapy helping dementia patients shared by the Alzheimer’s Society relates to Richard Dawson’s grandmother, Winifred. Dawson described how Orla, a dementia-friendly dog, helped Winifred with her dementia symptoms by providing her with company. He also described how Winifred forgot her worries and pain during her interactions with Orla.
Age UK, the UK’s leading charity dedicated to helping people make the most of later life, has also brought in dogs to meet local dementia patients and help them remember their own pets. This indicates that pets are a useful tool in aiding Alzheimer’s patients.