Pets Can Help With Dementia

Dementia is a disease of the brain and can be used to describe a set of symptoms which affect the memory, cognitive functions and problem-solving. Each individual case is unique and can be influenced by varying factors such as the support available, how early it is detected and the environment.

It is commonly associated with those aged over 65 but can affect younger people too.

We know that caring for a pet can alleviate stress and promotes well-being and this can be true for those with dementia but there are some additional points to consider. Our in-house RVN, Nicky, details all the consideration points, and other routes to get the benefits a pet can provide to a dementia patient, without the full-time commitment of rehoming or buying one.

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Memory loss is a main symptom of dementia and can lead to disorientation, frustration and outbursts. Following and maintaining an already-established routine, for those suffering with dementia, can help them to remain calm and focused and in turn, alleviates some of the stress commonly experienced by both patient and caregivers alike.

Often the familiar routines which have been practiced life-long can bring comfort to a patient, who is otherwise struggling to adjust with short-term memory changes. For example, feeding, grooming and daily dog walks around the park every lunchtime and all the interactions associated with that. An opportunity to get some fresh air, take some exercise, reduce social isolation, and maintain a part of their pre-dementia routine can be comforting and acts as a point of reference. This may need adjustment as the disease progresses, but well-being should be at the forefront of all care planning.

Understanding dementia is two-fold, from the perspective of patient whose understanding can dwindle and deteriorate as the disease takes hold and then the caregiver who will take the lead in assisting with support and understanding the condition and all that encompasses.

When we look at how this can impede on the dementia patient’s ability to care for a pet, it is important that the caregiver is able to offer care for both. The benefit of owning a pet to a patient with dementia can be very comforting; while the disease progresses and their functions deteriorate, communicating with family and friends can become frustrating, but an animal’s intuitive nature and supportive manner will mean they are happy to listen to their owner talking to them with no judgment.

Pets for a dementia patient have great value and offer benefits ranging from sensory stimulation to unconditional love and affection. However, as pet owners, we have a great responsibility for the health and welfare of our pets and with this in mind, making the decision to take on a new pet for a dementia patient must be given extensive thought, planning and consideration. Given the nature of the disease and the level of time, care, training, and money any new pet requires, this decision must be given serious consideration.

There are however other options for pet-loving dementia patients that can offer that interaction and connection, minus the commitment and responsibility. Pets as Therapy are an amazing charity that work with volunteers to train dogs that support communities, schools, hospices, and care homes. Nicky recently met a PAT dog that had saved a woman’s life by detecting a serious diabetic episode and alerted his handler.

Borrow my Doggy is a subscription service that matches dogs to dog-lovers and it doesn’t need to be for walkies – some dogs just like a lap to curl up in and this can be incredibly comforting for a dementia patient that has had dogs for many years but can no longer care for one full-time.

For support and advice contact Dementia UK and for those that want to do more, Dementia Friends can help you to understand the disease and support your community.

Through our pets app, myBuddy we always provide the best guidance we can to help you with issues that affect your pets, whether cats, dogs, rats, rabbits or reptiles. However, we would always recommend you call your vet or get in touch via the myBuddy app.