How Animal-Assisted Therapy Benefits Those Living with Dementia
Pets can provide unconditional joy, engagement, and companionship, but several health benefits also come with interacting with animals. For example, taking a dog on regular walks or playing fetch can keep you active and moving.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a pet owner to reap these health benefits. Pet therapy or “animal-assisted therapy is a therapeutic intervention that incorporates animals, such as horses, dogs, cats, and birds (psychologytoday.com).” People living with dementia can greatly benefit from animal-assisted therapy, as caring for an animal can provide a sense of accomplishment and responsibility.
Bella Groves is committed to being a trusted resource for dementia education and care. Below we share the benefits of animal-assisted therapy for people living with dementia and how we incorporate pets into our Alzheimer’s and dementia care community.
Animals Provide Stress Relief & Boost Mood
At times, a person living with dementia may experience feelings of anxiety or agitation. Changes in environment, fear or fatigue, and misperceived information can all lead to expressions of agitation. Fortunately, studies have shown that animals can reduce these feelings by being a source of love and laughter.
One study evaluated animal-assisted therapy on older adults living with dementia, and the results found that involving the people in activities with dogs decreased their feelings of anxiety and sadness and increased positive emotions.
Animals Create a Sense of Purpose
We all want to feel a sense of purpose in our daily lives, and that doesn’t change after a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Whether taking them for a walk, playing with them, or feeding them, taking care of another living creature gives a person responsibility and purpose.
Animals Can Evoke Positive Memories
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can affect long-term memory in two ways:
- A person can have difficulty storing information in their long-term memory.
- A person can have challenges with retrieving long-term memories.
While a person may not be able to retrieve a specific memory at any given time, triggers can often stimulate these memories. For example, whether a person had family pets growing up, lived on a farm, or is just a lover of animals, animal-assisted therapy can often prompt memories of past experiences for a person living with dementia, creating meaningful moments for them and their loved ones.
Incorporating Animals into Dementia Care
Owning a pet is a significant responsibility, and we know safety concerns can arise if a person is living with dementia. However, if you own a pet as a primary care partner, we encourage you to incorporate them into your daily dementia care routine. Beyond the benefits mentioned, animals can also offer a person living with dementia:
- Encourage sensory stimulation: interacting, petting, and chatting are valuable experiences that can promote engagement and create joyful moments.
- Promote active living: Animals can increase activity levels if the animal needs regular walks and encourages a person living with dementia to get outdoors. They have been shown to reduce blood pressure and can even increase appetite in people following the visit of an animal.
- Increase socialization: Pets provide a topic for conversation. A person living with dementia can learn information about the pet’s breed, discuss the animal’s traits or personality, and chat with other pet owners when out on walks.
If you or your loved one are unable to adopt a pet but want to reap the benefits of animal-assisted therapy, various organizations provide these services. In most cases, these organizations can bring a trained therapy animal to you, so your loved one can enjoy the company of an animal in the safety and comfort of their home.
Animal Support at Bella Groves
At Bella Groves, our dementia care community knows the positive impact animals can have on the quality of life of those living with dementia. While we don’t permit animals to “move in” with residents due to safety and care concerns, we have full-time, live-in community pets to provide unconditional love and joy to all our residents.
In addition to our community pets, our team partners with local organizations to further utilize animal-assisted therapy. For example, residents of Bella Groves have visited Hope Reins in Bulverde, Texas, where they were educated about the organization and how to take care of the horses. One resident that has a harder time with communication and focus was fully engaged with the horses and talking with the Hope Reins team the entire time (over an hour). At the same time, another resident that struggles with anxiety was excited and moved from one horse to another; fully engaged in what was happening around them. Animals help to create these joyful moments!
Bella Groves is dedicated to supporting those impacted by dementia. From the challenges to the small moments of joy, we partner with individuals and families throughout their dementia journey. If you have questions about your dementia care journey, we invite you to call us at (830) 323-0440 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.