Pets are the heart of many families. Their unconditional love and companionship boosts the spirit while helping people live more purposeful days. For older adults, a pet can fill a void left behind when adult children are grown and gone or following the death of a spouse.

Having a furry friend to talk to throughout the day and to snuggle up on the couch with in the evening can combat loneliness. For adults with Alzheimer’s, the benefits are substantial. Pets help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety that are unfortunately common in those with most forms of dementia.

Pets and Seniors: A Happy, Healthy Partnership

A study conducted at the University of Missouri revealed that seniors who own dogs enjoy a better quality of life. The stronger the bond between the older adult and their four-legged friend, the greater the benefits. Researchers say this is because people who feel a strong emotional attachment to their pet are more inclined to take good care of them. That provides a sense of purpose, which is sometimes difficult to find, especially for those with memory impairment.

Seniors with pets also tend to be more active, including people who have dementia. Those who have dogs and cats are more likely to get up and move. That helps with weight management, stamina, and core strength. It’s a combination that might aid in fall prevention, a risk for people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

Research shows the very act of petting an animal can lower blood pressure. The repetitive nature of stroking an animal’s fur can be very soothing. If you are helping a loved one find a pet as a companion, here are a few things to consider.

Adopting a Pet Later in Life

  • Budget: The first thing to think about before adopting a pet is the senior’s financial situation. Some breeds of cats and dogs are known for having health conditions that cause higher vet bills. Grooming expenses for long-haired dogs or cats can also leave a dent in the budget.
  • Space: Also think about the space a pet might require. For example, a small dog can make a few laps around the living room on a snowy day to work off excess energy. By contrast, a large dog will still need to go for a walk outside no matter the weather. Also take into account whether the long-range plan for a loved one with dementia might include moving to a memory care community. You’ll want to learn more about the potential communities’ size restrictions for pets.
  • Fall risk: As Alzheimer’s progresses, an older adult’s peripheral vision might be damaged. That means being mindful of the fall hazard a cat or dog might create. A medium-sized dog might be better than a small one that can get underfoot or a large one that might knock the person off their feet.
  • Time: Finally, think about the time commitment. While your loved one might be able to assist in caring for the pet now, the chores may one day fall on you. You will also likely be more involved in caring for your family member when that time comes. Consider who may be able to pitch in.

One last idea is to find out if any local organizations, such as 4 Paws for Ability, train service dogs to support adults with Alzheimer’s. They teach dogs how to assist with everyday tasks and to redirect potentially unsafe behaviors.

Dementia Care at Heritage

Heritage Senior Communities offers specialized dementia care at a variety of locations throughout Michigan. We invite you to call the community nearest you to learn more or schedule a visit. One of our experienced team members can answer questions and take you on a private tour!