Pet Therapy for Seniors: Puppy Love for Caregivers and Patients

For loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, studies show that pet therapy offers emotional, cognitive and social benefits. Pet therapy is a proven, practical and alternative way to relieve depression, calm anxieties, and contribute to an enhanced fullness of life.

Many with Alzheimer’s, especially those who lived life as animal lovers, feel a sense of calmness and peace when petting an animal. Dogs are the most commonly used animals for this type of work, but some outlets do feature cats and rabbits. Professionals say the breed isn’t as important as the individual disposition of the animal.

Animal Assisted Therapy For Home Care

Companies and volunteer groups featuring pet therapy, sometimes called animal assisted therapy, are cropping up all over the country. These resources provide trainers and docile, people-orientated animals available to come to your home and provide therapy right in your in-law suite.

dog photoUnfortunately, depression and anxiety often go hand and hand with Alzheimer’s. It’s an emotionally devastating fact that caregivers battle. Adding a pet to an environment can lighten the mood for a patient and settle restlessness. This is especially helpful during the early evening hours where restlessness tends to peak. Stroking and comforting an animal also gives the patient a feeling of “giving back” and self-worth. The pets revel in the added love and attention. Witnessing these moments are often a nice reminder to family caregivers of the parent or grandparent they remember.

Pet therapy can also alleviate confusion, inspire clarity and open windows of memory. Spending time with an animal may take these seniors back to times in their life spent nurturing animals or remind them of long-forgotten pets. The tactile feeling of the soft fur or innate nature of petting a dog can be powerful triggers.

Socially, this alternative therapy can be an ideal way to draw your loved one into social settings with other loved ones and grandchildren. With the animal as a common bond, the therapy session provides an activity and topic of conversation to be shared. This is a great way for youngsters and teenagers to interact with Grandma or Grandpa in a natural, enjoyable setting. Interacting with the pets can bring seniors out of their shell, into the present, eliciting smiles, laughter and a twinkle in the eye.

Getting Started With Pet Therapy

Pet Therapy for Alzheimer's and Dementia Care at HomeIf you have a loved family pet, a well trained dog or cat, you’re more than halfway there. Encourage your loved one to spend more time with your furry family member. Create more opportunities for these interactions and make them a regular part of the caregiving routine. This is an ideal assignment to delegate younger family members or visiting family and friends looking for a way to contribute.
For those without pets, research the pet therapy resources in your area. You may need to introduce the senior to a few different animals to find the proper connection. Once a match is made, your family may find a whole new way to relate to one another.


SNAP for Seniors Thesis:Pet Therapy and Dementia Study by Grant Milne

Neurology Now March/April 2007

Photo Credits ; Cat-Enid Yu, Dog-mikebaird

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