How Pets Can Benefit Alzheimer’s Patients!

At most of our homes, we have four legged friends scurrying around, visiting the Residents throughout the day. On even the grayest of days, it’s impossible not to smile at the sight of an ear-to-ear doggy smile and wildly wagging tail. They bring so much joy to our Residents, their family and friends and the staff. Pets can not only provide companionship, but also reduce anxiety and depression in those with Alzheimer’s.

Pets and Alzheimer’s

Researchers have long suggested that pets are good for us, even offering health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and heart rate, reducing the stress hormone cortisol, and boosting levels of the feel-good hormone, serotonin. It stands to reason, then, that finding four-legged friends in Alzheimer’s and dementia communities is becoming commonplace. At most of our Trillium Communities, we have therapy pets visiting weekly and resident dogs, kitties, fish and birds. There is never a dull moment.

Anyone who owns a cat or dog can attest to the beauty of their unconditional love, and animals often forge a special connection with people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. One of our dogs, Pudge, a (as you guessed it) pudgy shih tzu has been the resident pooch at Trillium Hart House for over 6 years and he makes sure to visit each and every resident (even if they don’t spoil him with treats).

How Pets Benefit Alzheimer’s Patients

While companionship is an obvious benefit, a well-timed pet visit may also help with anxiety and depression. It’s not uncommon to watch someone transition from emotionless to joyful when a pet enters the room, especially if it triggers pleasant memories.

However, it is important to also keep in mind that the opposite reaction could occur as well.

If you’re considering taking your pet for a visit, check with the community first to see if there are any limitations. Once you get the green light, here are a few suggestions that might help make for a positive experience:

  1. Be mindful of the pet’s temperament and energy level. Too much jumping and/or excessive barking may do more harm than good.
  2. Consider time of day. Morning or early afternoon visits are probably better choices than late afternoon and evening when Sundowner’s is setting in.
  3. Don’t wear out Fido’s welcome. Always stay tuned in to your loved one’s demeanor, as they can quickly reach a point of overstimulation. If they begin to show signs of agitation, simply know that it might be time to end the visit.
  4. Realize that Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are unpredictable when it comes to pets.

We are very grateful for all of our loveable four legged friends (and our birds and fish, too). Our oldest friend is an 18-year old kitty named Braveheart who is the longest residing resident of Trillium Douglas Care. It is the most loveable and cuddly cat you will ever meet and has the perfect temperament for seniors.

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