The Benefits of Pet Therapy for Adults with Dementia

The Benefits of Pet Therapy for Adults with Dementia

Animals can help people of all ages reduce stress and improve their overall quality of life, and adults with dementia are no exception.

Whether you’re looking for a pet or a trained service animal for a loved one with dementia, here’s what you should know.

What are the benefits of pet therapy for adults with dementia?

Advantages of Pets for People with Dementia

Playing with or caring for an animal has many advantages:

  • Lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Increased levels of the “feel-good” hormone serotonin
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • Improved social skills
  • Increased mental stimulation, including memory recall in people with dementia

Caring for a pet, and even just an occasional visit with a service animal, also may help prevent feelings of isolation or lack of purpose. Depending on the type of interaction with the animal, pet therapy also could encourage physical activity, such as playing with a cat or throwing a ball for a dog.

Pet therapy can help caregivers as well. Friends and family who join in have also reported feeling better afterward.

How to Start Pet Therapy for an Adult with Dementia

Seniors who live independently or have only mild dementia might keep their own pet, although caregivers should discuss this with their loved one’s doctor. Dogs, cats, and rabbits are some of the most common types of animals used in pet therapy.

Depending on your senior loved one’s needs, a trained service dog may be helpful. The Daily Treat blog offers a list of organizations that provide service dogs based on the person’s needs.

If your loved one cannot keep a pet but you would like to find an organization to help provide pet therapy, the Alzheimer’s Association blog has a list of resources to help you get started.

Introducing Pets to Patients with Dementia

If you are a caregiver with a pet, your senior loved one can gain physical and mental benefits from your own furry friend.

Elder loved ones should only be introduced to calm, well-behaved, healthy animals. Your pet should be up-to-date on all shots and exams and free of parasites. If possible, make sure the pet has had a bathroom break before the visit to avoid unsanitary accidents.

If you want to bring a pet into a senior residence, be sure to check with an administrator regarding any rules about animals.

If meeting a living animal is impossible or impractical, your senior loved one may also get some of the same health benefits from a stuffed animal. While this seems counterintuitive, anecdotal evidence suggests that a stuffed animal can provide comfort to people with dementia, remind them of a former pet, and give them a new way to interact with caregivers.

Pet Therapy Has Many Benefits

If you are caring for an elder loved one with dementia, consider pet therapy to help them improve their memory, stress levels, and general wellbeing.

Heritage Senior Communities are pet friendly too! Contact us to learn more about our pet policies for residents.

5 Stress Remedies for Caregivers

5 Stress Remedies for Caregivers

Anyone who has ever been a caregiver knows that it is a stressful job. Women who are caregivers are especially likely to experience stress.

Symptoms of stress include mood swings, social withdrawal, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. And stress can lead to serious health risks, including high blood pressure and anxiety.

Here are a few natural stress-management techniques you can use to lower the amount of stress in your daily life.

5 Ways to Manage Caregiver Stress


  1. Get enough sleep at night.

The stress of caregiving may cause you to lie awake at night worrying about your loved one and your to-do list. Unfortunately, this only increases stress and fatigue.

For a good night’s sleep, it’s important to practice good “sleep hygiene.”

  • Go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Avoid caffeine after noon.
  • Limit screen time, such as using tablets or watching television, beginning a few hours before bed.
  • Get plenty of natural light during the day and keep your bedroom dark at night.
  • Make sure you have a comfortable mattress and pillows.

Many people find that journaling also helps with the anxious thoughts that keep them awake.

  1. Practice thoughtful stress management.

Meditation, controlled breathing, and mindfulness may reduce stress by helping you focus scattered thoughts. These activities also can reduce certain symptoms of stress, such as rapid heart rate and muscle tension.

Set aside time every day to practice slow, deep breathing. Concentrate on a single thing in the room, like a spot on the wall. You might also close your eyes and focus on a sensation in your body, such as your feet against the floor.

You can also try one of the many free apps that can help guide you through relaxation techniques.

  1. Incorporate exercise into your routine.

When you’re mentally and physically exhausted from caregiving, exercise may be the last thing on your mind. However, exercise can help reduce stress, improve mood, and even boost your energy.

Just about any type of exercise can help, whether it’s a walk around your neighborhood, a water aerobics class, bicycling, or yoga. If you do not exercise already, talk to your doctor about how to start. It’s important to start slow and gradually build up your fitness level.

  1. Build a social network.

We tend to isolate ourselves from others during difficult times, but it’s important to reach out for support. Not only can you ask others to help care for your loved one, but social contact itself can relieve stress.

Calling a relative or going out for coffee with a friend can distract you from the things that cause stress and give you the support you need. If you can laugh about something together, even better—laughter also helps reduce stress.

  1. Take advantage of respite care.

A short-term respite stay at a senior living community can provide a loved one with an opportunity for socialization, while also giving the caregiver a break. Most senior living communities welcome respite stays of a few days or a few weeks.

There is help for caregiver stress.

When managing the stress of caring for a loved one, it is important not to neglect your own needs. If you believe that stress is seriously affecting your health, talk about it with your physician. He or she can help you find other ways to manage stress and stay healthy.

How to Make Caregiving Easier for You and Your Loved One

How to Make Caregiving Easier for You and Your Loved One

Dear Donna,

I am my dad’s primary caregiver, but lately I have been struggling with the stress and to-do list of caregiving.

Do you have any advice that can help me while still respecting his personal needs?

Barbara in Grand Rapids

Tips for Making Caregiving a Little Easier

Dear Barbara,

Caregiving is a big job, and it certainly gets stressful. Fortunately, the right approach to your role can make things easier. Here are a few ways you can improve your caregiving while still preserving your loved one’s dignity.

  1. Let your loved one do what they can.

Reduce feelings of stress and burnout by letting your loved one do as much as possible. This not only reduces your workload but lets them preserve some independence.

Whenever possible, you should let an aging family member make their own choices, such as what to wear or when to eat.

If your elder loved one lives independently, look for changes you can make in their home to help them stay independent. For example, installing additional safety bars can help them get around.

Consult with your loved one about their wishes for housing, medical care, and other important choices. As a caregiver, seek to be your loved one’s advocate, not to take over their life.

If you are not sure about how much choice to give, talk to your loved one’s primary health provider. They may be able to provide more insight or suggestions.

  1. Get extra help before it’s needed.

Illness and other emergencies may prevent you from caring for your loved one. If that happens, do you know who to call? If not, it’s time to start asking other family, friends, and community resources for help. This will allow you to have a back-up plan in case of emergency.

Create a list of people and organizations you can reach out to. For example, ask other relatives to help out with regular tasks like lawn care or transportation. Search local groups for things like meal deliveries, home health visits, or social activities.

  1. Be patient and flexible with yourself and your loved one.

As a caregiver, you will make mistakes sometimes. When that happens, you can acknowledge them, learn from them, and forgive yourself. In your journey as a caregiver, you can get better at making decisions and understanding your loved one’s needs.

When you feel impatient with your loved one, remember what they are experiencing. Aging is a frightening and frustrating process, so be patient as you and your loved one face many changes. Things may not always go according to plan, and that is okay.

You can become a better caregiver.

Being a caregiver does not have to mean that you take over your loved one’s whole life. Respecting their wishes, asking for help, and learning patience can make you a better, more balanced caregiver.

If you need additional help with providing for your loved one’s needs, we are here for you. Contact Heritage Senior Communities to talk about how we can help you provide the best care for your loved one.

5 Lifestyle Changes that Can Lower Your Risk for Cancer

5 Lifestyle Changes that Can Lower Your Risk for Cancer

Many people resolve to live healthier lives in January, but February is another good time to consider healthy lifestyle changes. That’s because it’s National Cancer Prevention Month.

What are 5 lifestyle changes that may help lower your risk of cancer?

Healthy Choices to Reduce Cancer Risk

Different things can influence a person’s risk of developing cancer, including family history and lifestyle. While you may not be able to change your genetics to reduce your cancer risk, you can make other healthy changes.

  1. Get more exercise.

You may already know that physical activity is good for your heart and weight. Did you also know it can help reduce your risk of some types of cancer?

According to the National Cancer Institute, higher levels of exercise can help reduce the risk of breast, colon, and endometrial cancers. Research also suggests that a sedentary lifestyle can increase your cancer risk, so any exercise is better than none.

  1. Quit smoking.

Smoking harms more than just your lungs. It accounts for about 30 percent of all U.S. cancer deaths, the American Cancer Society reports. Besides lung cancer, it can also increase the risk of mouth, throat, kidney, stomach, and pancreatic cancers.

Of course, quitting is easier said than done. If you smoke, talk to your physician about your options for kicking the habit.

  1. Limit exposure to potentially toxic chemicals.

Many substances we encounter in our daily lives can influence our cancer risk. You may not be able to change everything about your environment, but there are some choices you can make to reduce your risk of developing cancer.

  • Avoid dry cleaning or choose dry cleaners that use environmentally friendly materials
  • Don’t use pesticides or herbicides in your garden
  • Store cleaning products safely and wear protective equipment, such as gloves, when using them
  1. Cut back on red and processed meats.

The American Institute for Cancer Research has found that eating too much processed meat, like lunch meats and hot dogs, can increase your risk of colorectal cancer. The institute’s study indicates that the risk increases by 16 percent for every 50 grams of processed meat eaten daily (about one hot dog).

Researchers also suggest that high consumption of red meat, including beef and pork, can increase cancer risk. Instead, increase your consumption of fish and leaner meats like chicken.

  1. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.

The institute’s study also found a link between low intake of fruits and vegetables (less than 1 cup a day) and higher risk of colorectal cancer. Consumption of foods high in vitamin C, such as oranges and spinach, also may help lower colorectal cancer risk. Try to eat at least 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables each day, and incorporate them into every meal and snack.

A healthy lifestyle can lower your cancer risk.

Heritage Senior Living Communities make it easy to follow a healthy lifestyle. Contact us today to learn about our dining programs and exercise activities.