Dementia Therapy Dogs and How they affect Dementia Patients
We all know that dogs are a man’s best friend, and never has this been more true than when we look at the fantastic work that dementia therapy dogs do and how they can change people’s lives for the better.
What is dementia?
For many years now, therapy dogs have been used to help people suffering from dementia. Dementia is a disease that affects the brain, and symptoms include memory loss, confusion, mood changes, and difficulty with general, everyday tasks.
Dementia primarily affects older adults, and while there is currently no cure or way to stop its progression, there are several both drug and non-drug therapies that can help to alleviate symptoms. Unfortunately, dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, is a very prevalent condition with the number of people who have dementia worldwide being around about 50 million.
How do Dementia Therapy Dogs work?
Therapy dogs provide a considerable number of benefits to patients with dementia, and studies have proven just how effective they can be. Therapy dogs are now being used both for individuals at home with dementia as well as in residential care homes too.
Here at Petributes, we are acutely aware that pets can bring enormous benefits to people of all ages. They provide companionship, unconditional love, and tremendous amounts of fun. They don’t criticise us, or judge us and naturally make us feel more relaxed, friendly, and open, and happy – just by being part of our lives.
Dementia therapy dogs are excellent at assisting those who are suffering from dementia symptoms and have been shown to alleviate anxiety, aggression, depression, and loneliness. Therapy dogs are specifically trained and selected for their calm, dependable, quiet nature, being non-threatening and friendly. The dog will gently encourage the dementia patient to be more interactive, providing them with a companion to talk to, and will give them a reason to exercise too – which has numerous benefits also of course.
A 2002 study carried out by an Alzheimer’s special care unit monitored the benefits of a resident dog on the behaviour of residents and discovered that fewer behavioural problems were noted when the dog came to stay. Furthermore, a 2019 study found that AAT (animal-assisted therapy) can be a very beneficial and effective complementary treatment, particularly regarding behavioural and psychological symptoms, and that this is true for patients with varying degrees of dementia severity when that therapy is tailored to their unique needs and interests.
If a dementia patient previously had a dog as a pet, the presence of a therapy dog can also help them with their memory and reminiscence. Patients with dementia can quickly become confused, frustrated, and agitated. Therapy dogs provide fantastic support. Something as simple as brushing the dog, stroking and petting it can help them to relax and distract them. Therapy dogs are carefully trained and taught behaviour interruption, so when the patient starts displaying specific symptoms, the dogs will purposefully distract their owners, and help them to focus on something else.
There are naturally some important considerations to take into account when it comes to taking in a pet at home. We have listed some of these below.
Require care and attention
For more elderly patient’s it’s important to remember that dogs can easily be tripped over, so this must be considered if the person is unsteady on their feet, and prone to falling. Also, if the patient is likely to forget to feed and water the dog, it is vital to have someone responsible for taking care of the animal’s needs.
Waiting lists can be long
There is often a waiting list for therapy dogs as it can take over two years to train up a dog to be suitable for this kind of role. Hence, if a family thinks this could be something beneficial for a family member, it is best to try to get on the waiting list as soon as a diagnosis has been made.
Training is required
Therapy dogs not only provide comfort, but can be trained for many practical purposes too, such as reminding patients to take medication, waking them up in the morning, and barking for assistance if something is wrong.
Provide comfort to caregivers
There is no doubt that dementia can be a cruel disease, not just to the person suffering from it, but for those who provide their care, and other family members too. A therapy dog, or even just a family pet who hasn’t been specifically trained, can provide fantastic comfort and help to lower stress, tension, and anxiety in both patients and caregivers too.
There is no doubt that pets bring with them a vast array of amazing benefits, and therapy dogs are truly life-giving in important ways to many people affected by dementia.At Petributes, we will never cease to be amazed at the love, joy, kindness, compassion, and beauty of animals. That’s why when the time comes to say goodbye, we are here to make sure they receive a fitting send-off. Find out more about our unique caskets, keepsakes, and memorials, or speak to a member of our sympathetic team to discuss your needs today.
For more information about the benefits that come from animal-human interaction, please also check out the Society for Companion Animal Studies. The Cinnamon Trust can offer support to senior dog owners.