Fur family members often create a special connection with people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Experience and research both suggest that pets can be extremely helpful for those affected by these disorders.
Besides the obvious companionship, pets can help with anxiety, depression, agitation and irritability, which are often associated with these conditions. Oftentimes, people who have shown no signs of emotion will exhibit joy when a cat or dog enters the room.
One study of women with dementia reported that those who spent just 10 minutes with a cat had a significant increase in meaningful communication. Caring for a pet provides both mild activity and a means to stay engaged with the world. Pets can make their elderly companions feel needed. Specially trained pets can even prevent their confused human from leaving their home unaccompanied. For those in assisted-living facilities, pets can provide emotional and mental health support, reduce their boredom and sense of helplessness, and increase their alertness and number of smiles.
When considering whether a pet is right is for your loved one, it is important to assess whether the pet is well-trained and able to cope with mood swings and other conditions that are likely for those individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. It is also important to consider the energy level of the pet, as well as its potential to be caught under foot.
If your family member will be the primary caregiver, will they be capable of remembering to feed the pet and providing basic care? Can they keep track of health visits, licensing, and grooming? If they are moving to a long-term care facility, should their pet go with them? How do you find a pet-friendly facility? Reading "How Pet Therapy Has Changed Assisted Living" may help answer these questions.
Not surprisingly, benefits such as lowered blood pressure, reduced irritability, increased joy, decreased loneliness that occur in families with pets are also seen with caregivers of folks with dementia who have pets. These benefits can be especially important for caregivers who are under such additional stress.
While caregiving often makes a person feel all alone, a wagging tail or a soothing purr can mitigate some of those feelings. Having a pet adds to the list of loved ones to be cared for, but the addition of unconditional love more than makes up for the added responsibility. Some studies report that in families that include a pet, not only does the caregiver feel better, but they in turn are better able to take care of their loved one as well.