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.