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Alzheimer’s & Companion Animals

A loving pet can be a comfort, and so much more, for someone experiencing Alzheimer’s. 

Companion animals have the wonderful ability to love someone for who they are, no-matter what. They are a wellspring of genuine connection that may be suited for someone who struggles to find everyday stability.

Whether it is an affectionate cat, a bright-eyed dog, or a fish in an aquarium, research shows that an animal companion for a person with Alzhiemer’s can reduce negative emotions, promote healthier bodies, improve problem behaviors, create a sense of purpose, and enrich socialization.  

Reduce Negative Emotions 

Research has shown that interactions with an animal everyday can reduce negative emotions – such as depression and anxiety – which are common symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The relationship between a person and animal lessens feelings of loneliness. When mood positively increases, symptoms of Alzheimer’s may decrease.

 

Increase Health

A study in which 62 Alzheimer’s patients interacted with fish aquariums on a daily basis over two weeks showed positive results in overall health. Nutrition intake improved, underweight patients gained an average of 1.65 pounds, lowered blood pressure, and less nutritional supplementation was required. 

Pets also offer an excuse to exercise and get outside. Getting into the sun will shower them with vitamin D which is important for strengthening bones as well as improving mood. Exercise is also an important part of overall health. It reduces health risks such as diabetes and heart disease, releases endorphins which are important for feeling positive moods, and improves sleep and relaxation. A pet may help someone step into a healthier lifestyle and into a more improved state of mind. 

Improve Problem Behaviors 

Alzheimer’s may cause a normally pleasant person to have emotional outbursts which can be distressing to both caregiver and patient. Outbursts are triggered by a variety of stimuli but pets can help a patient remain grounded in a pleasant state of mind. With an animal to hold, pet, and soothe, a person can remain grounded in their animal’s presence which more often than not is reassuring and calming.

Create a Sense of Purpose

Pets require care and attention which can provide a sense of purpose for their owner. Walking, grooming, or feeding a pet are everyday responsibilities. Accomplishing these tasks can lead to a sense of accomplishment and be source of motivation throughout the day. 

Enrich Socializing

Research shows that animal assisted therapy led to increased social interaction with other dementia patients. Animals can also be an outlet for a person to share their feelings & thoughts, as well as a connection point with others, especially grandchildren. 

Conclusion

The benefits for some living with Alzheimer’s to have a pet are numerous. One can experience a lift in mood, a healthier body, improved problem behaviors, a bolstered sense of purpose, and enriched social life. When considering an animal companion for a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is important to consider that person’s ability to care for it and the energy which may be required from a caretaker. 

A loving pet can be a comfort, and so much more. 

Sources:

  1. Edwards NE, Beck AM. Animal-assisted therapy and Nutrition in Alzheimer’s disease (2002). West J Nurs Res 2002;24(6):697-712.
  2. Parker, Gordon. Vitamin D and Depression (2017). Journal of Affective Disorders; vol.208:56-61.
  3. Stevenson, Sarah. 5 Familiar (and Difficult) Behaviors of Alzheimer’s Patients. Jan. 14th, 2013. https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/01-14-2013difficult-alzheimers-behaviors/ Accessed on Oct. 23, 2019.
  4. Heerema, Esther. How Does Pet Therapy Benefit People with Dementia? Aug. 13, 2019. https://www.verywellhealth.com/how-does-pet-therapy-benefit-people-with-dementia-98677 Accessed on Oct. 23, 2019.

 

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