Pets can provide a great source of comfort to us, both physically and emotionally. Cat, dog, fish, snake, horse, donkey or lizard, whatever animal you love best, they are always there for you in times of need. This is especially true of people with dementia, who can find caring for an animal to be a source of support, stress relief, companionship and friendship.
In fact, studies have shown that when people with dementia pet or cuddle their animal, their body releases endorphins and other hormones such as oxytocin, prolactin and dopamine, which all help to reduce agitation and bring about an increased sense of wellbeing. There are even some suggestions that animals can communicate better than humans can, with people with dementia. This is thought to be because animals rely more on body language than verbal communication.
As well as mental wellbeing, there are several investigations of the effect of pets on physical health that suggest animals can lower blood pressure, reduce physical pain and improve cardiovascular health. This all shows that keeping a person with dementia, living with their pet for as long as possible, is best for all concerned.
However, when owning a pet is no longer an option, there are still ways in which animals can bring comfort and relief to those living with dementia. There is a steadily increasing number of organisations who help to match up Therapy Animals with people in need. These animals can visit care homes, hospitals, smaller groups and in some cases provide 1:1 support, to provide calm and fully trained animals for some well deserved love and attention. The animals help to brighten up the day of all they visit and can be a great way to introduce a source of love and laughter for people with dementia.
Assistant Dogs are a great way to combine care with the joy of owning a pet. They are very different to therapy dogs, as even though they will inevitably bring comfort and therapy, these are highly trained dogs who will live with their owners and provide help with specific tasks such as fetching medicine. Assistant or Support Dogs aim to maintain independence for longer and help people live safely.