How Animals Can Help People with Dementia: The Therapeutic Power of Pets
Pet animals have always provided companionship, love, and support when needed. That is probably why some medical professionals now use them as therapeutic tools to help people with dementia. Animal therapy, also known as pet therapy or animal-assisted intervention (AAI), uses animals such as dogs, cats, and horses to help people with dementia.
It is a kind of treatment that uses the time spent with a patient’s favourite furry friend to alleviate the effects of dementia. It is a treatment option gaining popularity in the caregiving space because of its numerous benefits. Some of these benefits include improved moods and decreased agitation levels in patients(among other benefits) who are suffering from dementia.
In this blog post, we will discuss the therapeutic power of pets and how they can be used to improve the quality of life for people with dementia.
How Animal Assisted Intervention Works:
Animal-assisted intervention (AAI) therapy is based on a concept known as the human-animal bond. This concept deals with the average person's desire to build strong positive bonds with animals. For most folks who interact with a friendly animal, it is only a matter of time before they form a strong bond with them. In most cases, this bond generates a soothing state in a person that has bonded with their pet.
AAI then builds on the potential of such an interaction to provide services designed to treat specific physical or mental health conditions. For example, pet animals often provide comfort, alert others if in danger and carry out instructions to help a person’s condition. So tapping into the potential of pets is the core of AAI.
However, AAI is only used as an alternative therapy that enhances more established dementia treatment therapies.
In most cases, the type of animal therapy used for a dementia patient depends on what condition the senior has, the type of pet animal, and the kind of therapy they provide.
Dementia patients who interact with animals often feel a sense of purpose. With AAI, the pets provide an opportunity for these kinds of seniors to forget their troubles and focus on something else. For instance, the rhythmic petting of a cat or the gentle contact of a horse can help decrease stress hormones and promote relaxation.
Then again, many dementia patients often have difficulty communicating verbally. With AAI, they get the opportunity to share thoughts and feelings via nonverbal means like gesturing or smiling at an animal. This interaction facilitates better connections with others and improved emotional state. In addition, pets used in AAI offer a sense of companionship for seniors or dementia who might feel isolated from their loved ones due to the disease's effects on memory and communication skills.
Now that you know how animal therapy works, let's look at some of the benefits of seniors taking part in animal therapy:
Seniors living with dementia can lead very lonely lives. But with a pet, they can get some comfort and impartial love which helps seniors living with dementia to feel accepted, especially when they have senior mobility issues. In addition, simple physical interactions like stroking or brushing a pet’s fur can help nurture a close bond between the senior and their pet.
Regardless of the stage of dementia that the senior is at, a pet provides affection and companionship. In the later stages of dementia, seniors who find communication difficult will have a good time with a pet animal. The reason is that pets make no demand on the individual to communicate. All that is needed is interactions through gestures and touch, and a senior can get all the affection they need.
With the right animal therapy, caregivers will find it easier to help seniors living with dementia.
Pets have also been known to assist seniors living with dementia to unlock their memories. Animal therapy is a multi-sensory experience that can trigger lost memories and recall memories.
There is more to just having fun with your pet. The senses of touch, smell and sound are connected to lost memories. In some instances, these senses can bring back pleasant memories of a person’s pets and encourage them to engage in conversation about them.
However, pet therapy can also aid the creation of new memories. In care homes, residents have been known to recall the animals that visited them, even asking for the animal days later or talking to owners about how the pet has been between visits.
Decreased Agitation Levels
AAI can reduce the agitations that seniors with dementia often experience and generate positive interactions. This can be achieved by getting seniors with dementia to care for pets of their choice. This activity can take them from the distracting thoughts common with dementia.
The responsibility of caring for a pet has a way of filling their minds with the right ideas and increasing their awareness of their minds.
With decreased agitation levels comes improved moods. The thing with seniors with dementia is the anxiety or disorientation that often affects them. The unconditional love and affection from pets allow these seniors to enter another world. Once they are there, their mood improves, and they become more emotionally stable.
Pet therapy sessions have a way of bringing people together. Seniors with dementia that have pets have the opportunity to socialize with others. For one, it gives them an avenue to engage in conversations with others who have pets to care for.
Having such common grounds fosters socialization, facilitating mental stimulation and making them more stable.
Enhanced Communication Skills
Poor communication skills are one of the major issues that caregivers face when providing caregiving services to seniors with dementia. But, thankfully, with their pets, they soon master non-verbal communications.
Then with the increased socialization, they get better at communicating with others and over time, their communication skills improve.
Seniors with dementia often have a series of challenges to combat. However, pet animals have therapeutic powers which have been leveraged into the Animal-Assisted Intervention (AAI) or Pet Therapy that is being used as an alternative therapy to help seniors battling dementia.
After reading this post, we believe you will have some insights to help you apply pet therapy better.