Animal-assisted therapy, also known as pet therapy, involves using trained animals to provide emotional support and companionship to individuals with various health conditions, including dementia. This therapy has shown numerous benefits for people living with dementia by improving their overall well-being and quality of life. Here’s how pet therapy can help as well as some examples of its positive effects.
Emotional and social engagement
Pets can create a sense of emotional connection and provide companionship to individuals with dementia, reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation. The presence of a friendly animal can evoke positive emotions, stimulate memories, and encourage social interaction. In our experience, an elderly person with dementia is more inclined to engage in conversation, reminisce about past experiences, or share stories about their own pets when we have a therapy dog present.
Stress and anxiety reduction
Interacting with animals has been shown to lower stress levels and alleviate anxiety in people living with dementia. Petting a dog or can release endorphins and reduce the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. This calming effect can help individuals with dementia feel more relaxed and at ease, reducing agitation and restlessness. For example, stroking a therapy rabbit’s soft fur coat can provide a soothing sensory experience and help an individual with dementia feel calmer. Touch can have a powerful, calming effect on our residents at the Future Care Group. A simple hand massage, gentle stroke of their hand, or simply holding their hand can have an instant settling effect. Our Namaste programme and wider dementia strategy support this too.
Improved cognitive function
Animal-assisted therapy has been linked to improvements in cognitive abilities for individuals with dementia. The presence of animals can stimulate cognitive processes such as attention, memory, and problem-solving. Engaging in activities like grooming, feeding, or playing with a therapy animal can help maintain cognitive skills and provide a sense of accomplishment. For instance, a person living with dementia may be tasked with simple commands or activities, like teaching a therapy dog to perform tricks. This can improve their cognitive function and boost self-esteem.
Physical exercise and mobility
Interacting with pets can encourage individuals with dementia to engage in physical activities and exercise. Playing with a dog or taking it for a walk can promote movement and increase mobility. These activities help maintain muscle strength, improve balance, and support overall physical well-being. On the last visit from our colleagues at Pets As Therapy, our dementia residents were throwing a ball for the therapy dog which motivated them to move around and engage in light exercise without them even realising it!
Increased socialisation and communication
Animal-assisted therapy can catalyze social interaction and communication among individuals with dementia. Animals often act as a bridge between people, facilitating conversations and encouraging individuals to express themselves. Pets can provide a non-judgmental and accepting presence, making it easier for individuals with dementia to communicate their feelings and needs. For instance, a therapy animal may prompt a person with dementia to talk about their experiences with pets, leading to social interactions and connections with others.
Overall, pet therapy can significantly benefit individuals with dementia by promoting emotional well-being, reducing stress, enhancing cognitive function, supporting physical activity, and facilitating social interaction. The unconditional love, comfort, and joy that animals provide can make a positive impact on the lives of those living with dementia.
Animal therapy in care homes
All the Future Care Homes welcome friendly pets and from time to time we have VIP pet guests too courtesy of our friends from Pets As Therapy. We all look forward to their visits and our staff recognise the beneficial impact these visits have on our residents.
If you would like to book a visit to one of our 18 care homes, please contact us today and we would be delighted to arrange a time to meet you and show you and your loved one what we have to offer.
More information about our Dementia care offering can be found on our website.