Posts Tagged dementia care

Play with a Pet

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You probably know that pet therapy is an emerging area of research and application in care of people with dementia. While therapy dogs have special training and certification, any well-behaved dog cat, or rabbit can potentially bring a little joy and a lot benefits to a person with memory loss. While companionship is an obvious benefit, pets may also help with agitation, depression, and anxiety. It’s not uncommon to watch someone transition from emotionless to animated or from agitated to calm when a pet enters the room, especially if it triggers pleasant memories. However, keep in mind that the opposite reaction is possible as well!

Of course, to some caregivers, the idea of adding another thing to care for, no matter how cute and cuddly, sounds pretty overwhelming, so don’t feel as if you have to adopt a pet to get the benefits. Even having a friend bring a well-behaved pet for a visit is a great option. Of course, it’s important to be mindful of the pet’s temperament and energy level. In general, too much jumping and/or excessive barking may do more harm than good. Also, be sure that the animal is a good “match” for the person with memory loss. A 90 pound woman who’s unsteady on her feet probably shouldn’t walk an excitable St. Bernard; someone with thin skin and on Coumadin might want to stay away from a cat with sharp claws; someone who throws things when angry should probably be supervised around a small yorkie…you get the idea. Of course, animals are unpredictable, as can be people with dementia, so supervision if probably wise, especially in the beginning while everyone is getting to know each other.

Other tips for success:
1. People in the later stages of the disease may respond better to animals that remind them of animals that remind them of former pets. But be warned: they might not like having to leave the “family dog” behind when they leave!
2. People love to feed animals, so be sure to have appropriate treats available for the person with dementia to feed the pet or you might find that they get a lot of people food!
3. Even those in the late stages of the disease can enjoy petting a soft dog, cat, rabbit, gerbil, etc. Even just hearing a cat purr across the room can be soothing, so don’t feel like the animal has to be right next to the person to have a positive effect.
4. Don’t forget to reminisce!

More information about pet therapy can be found at:
http://www.everydayhealth.com/alzheimers/how-animal-therapy-helps-dementia-patients.aspx

http://www.alzheimersproject.org/About-Us/News-Photos-and-Calendar/Latest-News/Pets-and-Dementia

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