There are many health benefits of owning a pet. When people get regular activity from walking or playing with pets, they often find that their physical health improves as their blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels all decrease. Pets can also help with our emotional wellbeing by reducing loneliness and depression by having a loyal companion.
For people living with dementia, in particular, having a pet can be hugely beneficial. As such, ‘Pet Therapy’ is being integrated into more and more dementia care strategies. This article will give more information on how this type of therapy works, and why it’s so good for those living with dementia.
What Is Pet Therapy?
Pet therapy is the practice of using animals such as dogs, cats, rodents and birds, to help people manage their health problems, and recover from diseases and disorders. First introduced back in the early 1990s, pet therapy it is still a relatively new type of treatment. However, it has been quickly accepted in mainstream psychology, with several universities across the globe now offering courses in animal and pet-assisted therapy.
In dementia care, pet therapy involves guided interactions between the person with dementia and a trained animal. A person with dementia may enjoy petting, brushing, walking, and caring for the animal, and may find these experiences therapeutic.
There have been many studies carried out into the relationship between pet therapy and emotional wellbeing; most of which have found a positive outcome.
How Pet Therapy Benefits People Living with Dementia
It’s clear to see why pet therapy is becoming more and more popular for those living with dementia, as it provides a number of proven benefits. Firstly, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and confusion are common in people living with dementia. Pet therapy can help alleviate these symptoms and reduce feelings of anger, helplessness, and frustration that are often experienced by those living with dementia. In addition, interacting with animals increases mental stimulation, which can improve memory recall. When people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia interact with animals, they are able to sequence temporal events more easily and feel more relaxed as the brain releases oxytocin, prolactin, and serotonin.
Some of the other benefits of pet therapy include the following.
Many studies have reported the emotional benefits of pet therapy, such as improved mood and more social interaction. This is extremely important for those living with dementia, as they are at higher risk of developing depression, which can seriously impact both their ability to function and their quality of life. One study, in particular, found that involving people with dementia in activities with dogs reduced their feelings of anxiety and sadness as well as increasing their level of physical activity, which lead to more positive feelings.
A 2008 study found that pet therapy had a calming effect on nursing home residents. Other studies have also shown that pet therapy can actually lower blood pressure levels in older adults.
Fewer Behavioural Problems
According to one study, having a resident dog (as opposed to a visiting dog) in a nursing home significantly reduced the residents’ challenging behaviours throughout the day. Other research has also concluded that people with Alzheimer’s disease who were exposed to pet therapy experienced less agitation and aggressive behaviour.
In another study, an aquarium was placed in an aged care facility. Results concluded that with the arrival of the aquarium, both the food intake and the weight of residents increased, which meant that the facility did not need to provide as many nutritional supplements for residents, therefore lowering overall costs.
Increased Social Interaction & Physical Activity
Pet therapy has been found to increase social interaction in those with dementia, according to another study. It has also been associated with increased physical activity, which is extremely beneficial for people living with dementia.
While a lot of the studies referred to above have been carried out in care facilities, many of the same benefits can be found having a pet at home. If you have a family member living with dementia, a pet may be helpful for their care. However, remember that it is likely to put extra workload on you as a carer, as you will have to look after, feed and care for the pet, so be sure that you can cope before introducing a pet to the home.
Alternatively, you could consider looking into formal pet therapy, which is available across Australia. The PAWS Pet Therapy website may be a good place to start. In addition, if you’re caring for someone with dementia, the Dementia Live® course may be of benefit to you. The course immerses carers in the experience of living with dementia to give them powerful insights for effectively communicating with those in their care.