A new approach, animal therapy, has recently become popular in Memory Assisted Care Communities. Dementia patients are prospering from animal therapy. Pets offer companionship and unconditional love; they have a key part in the quality of lives.

Fostering a Home-Like Experience

In the early 1990s Dr. William Thomas, a medical director at a New York nursing home, made the decision to bring “life” into his facility. Dr. Thomas believed a nursing home should “create opportunities for close and continuing contact with people of all ages and abilities” and along with other changes incorporated animals into the community environment. The resulting benefits were amazing. His revolutionary idea called the “Eden Alternative,” was quickly endorsed and is now a worldwide practice in many facilities.

The transformation in those who have been given the opportunity to have contact with an animal was astounding. Patients no longer focused on aging. They transferred hidden emotions to the animal. The Eden Alternative brought purpose and meaning to the lives of nursing home residents.
Changing the atmosphere to a home-like environment makes a difference and animals such as dogs, cats, bunnies, gerbils, fish, and birds are all a part of the process. Many communities caring for those with Alzheimer’s or Dementia follow the philosophy of Dr. Thomas and allow pets Resident therapy animals have also been adopted to help residents.

A Psychosocial Intervention for Dementia

Dementia patients easily form a special bond with therapy animals. Regardless of the stage of Dementia, there is a positive response to the unconditional love experienced when with an animal. A few minutes with a pet has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol (a stress hormone), boost Serotonin (a feel-good hormone) and lower heart rates. Animals, under the right conditions, bring joy into the lives of individuals simply by having a calming effect. Time spent with animals helps encourage participation in physical activities, alleviate feelings of sadness and increase positivity.

Impact on Behavioral Issues

Sundowner behaviors may be reduced or eliminated with animal therapy when performed earlier in the day. Snuggling with an animal diverts troubling thoughts and anxieties. Methodically stroking an animal soothes tense muscles as one begins to relax.

Negative nutritional intake results when an Individual with Dementia has a decreased appetite. A study published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research states the slight addition of a fish aquarium has had a positive impact. Residents ate more, lowering the need for supplements and resulting in weight increases. According to the same study, this also lowered health care costs, which is in line with the results of Dr. Thomas’ Eden Alternative.

Acknowledging the Downside

Research continues to be conducted on the impact animal-assisted therapy has on Dementia patients. While promising, there are serious considerations. Not everyone likes or appreciates animals. Those who have had positive experiences with animals during their lifetimes are more apt to see benefits from animal therapy. At the same time, negative memories could have the opposite result.

Be mindful of allergic reactions and their causes. Allergies may be caused by pet dander, certain breeds or grooming products used by the animal. Immunizations should be current in therapy animals.

The Presence of Pets

A nervous or energetic dog may not be a good choice. Dementia patients do better if not over stimulated. An animal who is calm and used to interacting with people is a better option. Remember there will be good days when a pet’s presence is welcome and bad days when a visiting animal causes confusion.
Bridge to Better Living offers a service providing guidance and assistance to Seniors, families and their loved ones when considering a transition to a Senior Living Community. Consultants build relationships with their clients to find the most appropriate living option. Bridge to Better Living understands the importance of quality of life…including pets. Contact Bridge to Better Living now to set an appointment for a consultation. Services are always no-cost to the client. Bridge to Better Living believes in Placement with Passion.