How Pets Can Help Those Living with Dementia
When someone is diagnosed with dementia, it is often assumed that keeping their beloved pet is impossible. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Studies have shown that pets have actually been known to improve the health of those with dementia while providing them with a companion.
How to Determine if a Pet Can Be Kept?
After considering the following factors, you may find that there are alternatives to immediately giving up a well-loved pet.
1. Stage of Dementia
The first thing that must be considered is the current stage of dementia. An individual in the early stages of illness is typically more capable of taking care of a pet than someone in a later stage or who has had dementia for years. Unforgettable states, "if [the dementia is] still quite early on, they will most likely be able to continue as normal."
2. Type of Pet
The type of pet will also play a role in this decision. The easier it is to take care of an animal, the more likely it will be that the pet can remain at home. Hamsters, dogs, and cats are great examples of pets that have provided love and care for people with dementia.
3. Work and Effort
The amount of work and effort required to take care of the pet is also important to keep in mind. "if the pet is a well-loved cat or calm dog that is low-maintenance and doesn’t require much more than plenty of love and cuddles, then it could be more helpful to keep the pet rather than cause the trauma of removing the pet," Unforgettable reports.
4. Is the Pet Wanted?
One question that must be asked, however, is whether or not the owner wants to keep the pet. While there are many benefits to having them around, every case is different. Sometimes an animal can be a source of annoyance or stress for a person with dementia, depending on all of the above factors.
Positive Effects of Pets
There are many positive effects that owning or visiting with a pet can have on those living with dementia. We have listed a few of the benefits:
- Animals make great topics of conversation. Everyone loves to talk about their favourite pet, and those with dementia have been known to light up at funny stories about the neighbourhood puppy.
- The presence of pets has been known to help with memory, especially with those who have owned pets previously. People with short-term memory loss tend to recall the animals that visit them, asking owners how the pet has been doing and contributing happily to the conversation by discussing pets they have had in the past.
- Spending time with pets helps combat loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression. Animals make great companions that offer unconditional love and attention. Their close proximity can boost self-esteem and create a bright environment to live in.
- Pets also help those with dementia stay calm and feel relaxed. The actual act of petting or stroking an animal can bring peace and comfort. There are also records of dogs that have visited care homes and taken naps with residents, helping them to sleep.
- Animal visits encourage exercise and cause bursts of energy. People with dementia tend to feel more inclined to get up and move about when it means spending time with their furry friends. Spending short periods of time playing with pets or getting outside and going on walks can go a long way.
- Playing with animals can give those with dementia something to do and look forward to. Incorporating the animals into their daily life can provide a set routine for their day.
If You Have to Say Good-Bye
If you need to give up a pet, consider visits from other animals. This is a great way to still receive the positive effects of an animal and keep the memory of a pet close at heart.
Pets As Therapy (PAT) is a UK-wide charity that conducts pet visits throughout the year and provides research on the subject of pet therapy.
Pets provide love, laughter, and light to the lives of people every day. If you or someone you know is diagnosed with dementia, remain informed and evaluate your personal situation before you give up these wonderful members of your family. And if you must say goodbye, remember that there are other ways to incorporate animal interactions into your life.