Benefits of Pet Companionship with People with Dementia
In creating a safe, engaging, home environment, The Kensington’s Memory Care neighborhoods have pets (and robopets.) Why would we want one more body to take care of you ask? What we see each day is that our animals are the ones taking care of our residents and team members – not the other way around!
Because the brain is affected in areas of perception, organization, planning and judgment, people with Dementia sometimes experience apathy, restlessness, lack of initiative, anger, fear, depression or insecurity in social settings. The communication center is affected as well resulting in difficulty with word finding, word substituting or inability to formulate any verbal output. This further impacts how the person interacts with the world around them.
Animals by nature do not judge. They are “in the moment” and love unconditionally. For these reasons they are perfect companions for our residents with Dementia.
James Smith of The Alzheimer’s Project reports the following research:
- People with dementia recognize a pet in the environment as friendly and non-threatening. When they have a pet with them, studies show they display more interactive behaviors, although these behaviors are often directed toward the pet rather than their human companions.
- Dogs have proven to reduce agitation and increase pleasure just by their presence.
- It has even been shown that dementia patients eat more following the visit of a therapy animal.
- Spending time with an animal has even been correlated to lowering blood pressure and increasing odds of survival after a heart attack.
- Many individuals with Alzheimer’s, who respond to little or nothing else in their environment, will respond to the non-threatening presence of a gentle therapy animal.
- An animal also provides a natural and easy conversation topic for dementia patients, who often feel a great deal of strain from being put into social situations.
Each day I witness residents laughing when playing with our dog or cat, becoming calm when petting them, redirected from a negative interaction and initiating contact either playing or feeding them. Our residents remember our pets’ names. When feeling lonely they call them over to keep them company. One day one of my residents who can be a bit cantankerous told me “You know, it’s wonderful to have a dog here. He makes this place feel like a home, like we are living a normal life even though we have Dementia.” And THAT is why we have pets!