Dementia and the Benefits of Pets

Pets offer invaluable companionship and emotional support for individuals with Alzheimer's, reducing stress and improving quality of life. They bring joy, alleviate dementia symptoms, and foster interaction, making them ideal companions in both clinical and home settings.

Dementia and the Benefits of Pets
Pets bring comfort to Alzheimer's patients

Pets can be a powerful source of comfort and companionship for individuals with Alzheimer's disease or other related dementias . Animals do not judge, criticize or expect anything in return - they are content to provide unconditional love that is beneficial on many levels!

Studies have shown pets help reduce stress responses and lower blood pressure along with providing emotional support through their playful nature. From cats to birds, fish tanks to big floppy dogs - explore the ways having an adorable companion around could bring joyfulness into your life when dealing with developing Alzheimer's disease.

Pets as emotional support animals is becoming popular as we are learning all the positive effects that animal companionship can provide in a clinical setting, especially for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. By forming an emotional bond and providing comfort during challenging moments, pets can bring immense improvements to life: reducing chronic pain and increasing longevity levels. while the studies are in a clinical setting, I think these same results in the home environment.

Pets improve the quality of life

And for someone with Alzheimer's dementia, those qualities make them a good companion. The very presence of a pet can help reduce the behavioral symptoms of dementia. such as anxiety, agitation, irritability, depression, and loneliness.

Most pets, by nature are friendly and non-threatening. This can help a person with alzheimer's disease be more interactive, when sometimes they are not able to do so in social settings with other adults. I have been in many homes with individuals suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and even in the middle stages of of this brain disorder, pets make a difference.

For many people with Alzheimer's disease, a furry friend can bring lifelong companionship and happiness. But it’s important to make sure any animals involved are welcomed in the safest way possible. As alzheimer's disease progresses, you must be aware of how your family members cognitive decline may affect the interaction.

Of course, there are things to consider , such as who will walk the dog? who will feed and groom the pet? Caring for a pet can decrease the progression of the disease. In the early stages, while the thinking skills are still in tact, walking and playing with a dog can improve mood and life the sprits of your loved one with Alzheimer's disease. As the disease progresses, you must consider the person's ability and plan the activities within their mental abilities.

Caregivers should remember to consider things like allergies, energy levels of both pet owner and animal. Fall risks increase in the middle to late stages of dementia. be aware or tripping hazards as your pet and loved one enjoy time together.

With all these factors taken into consideration however - pets could be just what your family member needs for emotional support as the disease process progresses.

long-coated white puppy litter
Pets bring joy

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Oh this topic reminds me of my client Joe. Joe was in just starting to exhibit dementia symptoms , he wanted a dog. His wife was reluctant to have a pet, as they had plans to do some extensive travel during retirement. His wife gave into Joes demands and she reluctantly agreed to a puppy.

It was at that time, Joe was experiencing initial symptoms of Mild Cognitive Impairment. This is a condition that is a normal aging process. Older people, as we age, start to have slower processing of information. We also have a slower ability to retrieve information. Oh we have all had those seniors moments where we forget what we are saying of have word finding problems at times.

Being diagnosed with Mild Cognitive impairment does not necessarily mean that you will develop alzheimer's disease. Individuals that have MCI, are still able to perform daily tasks without support. However, there are individuals that will have an increased risk to develop alzheimer's. If you have a history of familial alzheimer's disease, or a family history of alzheimers, there is an increased risk for developing this devasting and progressive condition.

Brain function and Alzheimer's dementia

I want to explain a little bit about brain function and Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's affects the cerebral cortex region of the brain. and slowly destroys memory. It is the outermost layer of your brain and its most complex area. It is where all the magic happens.

It's the wrinkled gray matter, the exterior that hides an incredible complexity at work - from memory to problem-solving skills and emotions – a powerhouse for many essential functions that keep our brain functioning at its optimal level. During Alzheimer's disease tau proteins and amyloid plaques build up in the brain, developing structures called neurofibrillary tangles that cause brain cells to die. This is what causes memory loss and memory problems.

Sadly with Joe, it was a precursor to developing this progressive disease. The puppy was a blessing in disguise to Joe and his wife. The puppy helped Joe continue his healthy lifestyle of walking and eating healthy foods to improve brain function and slow the progression of the disease. Most people do not know that from diagnosis to death can be as short as 4 years to as long as 20 years. Murphy, the puppy may be able to grow old with Joe.

white cat with yellow and blue collar
To make you smile

Pets can lift your mood and give you joy

Pets are a powerful source of comfort and companionship that can help break up the loneliness, fear, and confusion is a person's life. Pets are a great way to establish meaningful connections with Alzheimer's patients. They offer an approachable, calming presence that can help bridge the gap between those who may feel limited in conversation and unable to engage socially due to their condition’s progression. Ultimately, this helps lift feelings of loneliness and isolation for such individuals as they seek out companionship!

It's important to understand as Alzheimer's disease progresses, the person suffering is experiencing cognitive decline. As brain cells die, it slowly destroys memory. A person with Alzheimer's disease loses their short term memory first. Later the long term memory loss occurs in the middle to later stage alzheimer's. This is important to know, because a person with alzheimer's related dementias is just living in the present. While we talk about living mindfully, a person with dementia is doing just that.

Although every individual experiences the stages of Alzheimer's differently, companionship from our furry friends may provide solace and enjoyment.

Having a pet encourages exercise

Having a dog can be an excellent way to stay active, even if you don't have the energy or capacity for more intense exercise. A short walk with your pup is a great form of activity that will provide not only physical benefits but also emotional ones! getting outdoors improves your spirit and mental health .

Getting 30 minutes a day of moderate activity is recommended as part of a dementia prevention program. the good news is even 10 minute increments are just as effective. Physical activity is one very important way to slow the progression of the disease.

To top it off, maintaining muscle strength and simply throwing around some toys does the trick.

Joe loved to walk. He and Murphy walked several times a day. they took long walks. In the early stages of the disease , Joe took Murphy to the beach and played ball. As his dementia symptoms started to affect his thinking skills, he stopped going to the beach, and instead played ball in the yard. Joe needed direction and cues on what to do, such as pick up the ball, Take the ball from Murphy. Throw the ball. You could see that Joe enjoyed this interaction even though he had to be directed what to do..

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    Pets encourage better health and behaviors

    Did you know that studies show people that own pets lower the risk of developing heart disease and lowering blood pressure reduced risk for developing cardiovascular disease. So owning a pet promotes better health and behaviors.

    Spending time with loving animals can reduce anxiety and boost happiness. In one study, residents of an Alzheimer's care facility were less agitated when a resident dog was present; even their eating habits improved! The benefits don't stop there- research indicates that regularly spending quality time around four-legged friends has the potential to lower blood pressure, slow heart rate, and improve overall well being.

    Studies show that having pets has actually had a impact at decreasing negative behavioral symptoms. Pets not only bring joy to their owners' lives, but they can also be of great help in managing the physical and mental burdens that come with Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.

    Studies have shown that animals provide stability for people experiencing dementia by providing a feeling of comfort when faced with strange faces or new memories, without expecting anything beyond simple interaction from them - this is why so many patients benefit from having an animal companion!

    Pets increase social interactions

    Pets increase social interactions for those that have an alzheimer's disease diagnosis. Pets can provide a unique opportunity for those with Alzheimer's to socialize and build meaningful relationships. They make great conversation starters, bridging the gap between strangers while still providing comfort in an unfamiliar environment. Who knows what interactions may develop from simply talking about one’s pet? Lord knows I have lots of conversations with all my pets. They are the best listeners.

    Joe was a very social man prior to his diagnosis and cognitive decline. In the middle stages of alzheimer' disease, joe lost his ability to verbally communicate. His vocabulary became very limited. basically he was able to yes and no. He was always a very animated man. His facial expressions always gave you an indication on what he was feeling. So, as the brain cells in the language center of the brain died, his communications became more and more challenging.

    Murphy was great for Joe. He was known in the community and the two of them walked everywhere. Neighbors always stopped to talk with Joe, throughout his disease process. Socialization is so very important to slow memory loss. Every interaction we have takes processing, planning a response and even filtering our response. As alzheimer's and related dementias progress, we can still build new neurons internal support by living a healthy lifestyle, getting physical activity and staying social. And pets help us do that with ease.

    Pets are powerful allies in the fight against loneliness, anxiety and depression.

    With their unconditional love they can bring an instant mood boost - no matter how temporary! A friendly furry friend is sure to add a dose of joy when it feels like all hope is lost. This is important. remember a person with alzheimer's disease and related dementias live in the moment. They will respond to the mood and feelings of those around them. Thats a really important point for family members to remember. Memory problems can result in the person's ability to respond. the result could be your loved on with Alzheimer's disease responding with frustration, irritability and even anger. Pets have been found to be a calming presence.

    Did you know pets can improve your appetite?

    While the presence of a four-legged friend or even one with fins or feathers, can provide emotional comfort and companionship for those with Alzheimer’s, such friends may also give them much needed nutrition. Studies have revealed that keeping pets around can help increase their nutritional intake - from improved eating habits to even gaining healthy weight!

    I want to address a little bit how hunger poses a particular problem for those dealing with Alzheimer's disease, especially in the middle to later stages. This is because communication difficulties, confusion and depression can lead to changes in eating habits that result in erratic food consumption or an overall decline of appetite.

    Such extreme circumstances can then exacerbate physical deterioration associated with this condition - impairing walking ability, coordination and even swallowing and feeding problems.

    Here's another mini anatomy lesson. The hypothalamus is the hunger center in the brain. As late stage alzheimer's advances and other symptoms develop it can make it difficult for your family member with alzheimer's disease to recognize when the stomach is empty or full. Also, as memory loss increases, Alzheimer’s patients may simply forget to eat when they are hungry.

    In the challenging journey of Alzheimer's, you may find that it is hard to keep up with unexpected changes in hunger. In its final stages, a lack of appetite and extreme weight loss can lead to many health risks for your loved one.

    Alzheimer's patients can benefit greatly from the presence of therapy pets! A Purdue University study 2 showed that regular exposure to fish aquariums over an 8-week period resulted in a significant increase in nutrition intake, allowing those with Alzheimer’s Disease to gain weight and lessen the need for dietary supplements. In other words - if you know someone suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, look into getting them a pet as it could help their quality of life significantly.

    The benefits of robotic pets

    People suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other related dementias can benefit from having a robotic pet cat/dog companion! A recent study published by issues

    In Mental Health Nursing found that 12 participants Improved their moods and increased their attention, language, and registration after engaging with the cats four times each week for three months. By providing comfort during difficult moments while also preventing loneliness of dementia patients, these robotic pets have been shown to reduce depression symptoms as well as improve communication skills between individuals within its environment.

    If you are caring for someone affected by Alzheimer’s it is important be aware of these potential issues so as best support your loved one through their journey ahead

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