We are not sure why it took years of research and evidence-based practice to yield the results that those who suffer from cognitive impairment such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease do much better in a homelike setting and in homes that have pets. Don’t we all?

At Serenity Gardens, we have always believed that family and home are pillars of wellness. For those who require memory care living assistance, dealing with the cognitive decline can be frustrating and overwhelming, but feeling at home can provide comfort and reduce negative symptoms. And, nothing makes a place feel like home quite like a pet!

Join us today as we review the list of pros and cons of pet therapy for those with dementia.

The Pros of Pet Therapy

Pet companions offer benefits that no other human can, including:

  • Unyielding loyalty
  • A sixth sense
  • Nonjudgmental companionship
  • Silent listening — they cannot tell your secrets!
  • Unconditional love
  • Relentless positivity

Even on the worst day, it is difficult not to find comfort in your dog’s touch. Pets know us better than we know ourselves and can sense exactly what we need. Additionally, for those who require assistance with activities of daily living, pets can offer a source of healing and comfort.

Improved Mood

For those with dementia and other cognitive impairment, social interaction and mood tend to decline as well. This can be attributed to confusion with keeping a conversation or the loss of loved ones. Animals offer companionship that can help lift the mood of most people and even encourages social interaction with other humans.

A decrease in Behavior Problems

Pacing, aggression, and agitation are all behaviors that are associated with dementia. Forgetting who one is or becoming confused can cause anxiety. Inactivity or an inability to concentrate causes under- or over-stimulation and increases restlessness. The presence of an animal is not only calming, but offers something for attention to be directed to.

Increased Physical Activity

People with cognitive impairment are often found to get very little physical activity, aimless wandering aside. It can be easy for people who have dementia to sit in silence for much of the day. Pets offer stimulation that encourages activity. And, as we know, physical activity has so many benefits, including slowing cognitive decline.

The Cons of Pet Therapy

There are very few downsides to pet therapy, but there are a few things to keep in mind. The temperament of the animal makes a significant difference. Animals that serve as therapy dogs for the cognitively impaired should be docile and calm. Aggressive or hyper animals can intensify the anxiety experienced by those with memory impairment.

Allergies should be considered and attention paid to the development of allergies to pet dander. For those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, there is a good chance that allergies have been identified at some point in their lives and it is a safe assumption that if they have not had issues before, they are not likely to begin now.

And, finally, the care of the pet should not be the sole responsibility of the memory impaired. So, if your loved one does not live with you or in an assisted living facility, live-in pet therapy may not be a realistic option.

Alternative Options

For those who suffer from dementia that cannot have a pet, pet therapy is still an option. Try an alternative form of pet therapy such as:

  • Visit the zoo
  • Share pictures of animals — you can use magazines or calendars
  • Visiting pet therapy for short visits
  • Use fish tanks or plants instead
  • “Living” stuffed animals

At Serenity Gardens Assisted Living, we keep our facilities small and homelike. We eat meals in a family-style setting and our patients are our family. We have house pets who offer a comforting touch to our residents and encourage our residents to bring their furry friends to live with them. If your loved one requires memory care, trust the caring team at Serenity Gardens. Contact us to schedule a tour and enroll your loved one in our services today.