Over the years, many studies have shown the numerous ways pets improve quality of life for people, including seniors. Animals have a way of lowering our stress levels, with just 15 minutes of bonding time causing hormonal changes in the brain by producing more of the “feel-good” hormones like serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin. Pets can also alleviate depression, boost your daily physical activity, provide unconditional love and companionship, and just keep you invested in life even on days you feel down.
Senior living communities have long recognized the benefits of pet therapy, or animal assisted therapy, and have incorporated this unique form of therapy into their regular programming. For individuals living with dementia, animals have been shown to provide even more amazing benefits.
Animal Therapy for Seniors with Dementia
Animals do not judge us, nor are they critical of how we may be acting. For this reason, they make wonderful companions to those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. It’s common for some of these individuals to form special bonds with animals during pet therapy sessions; it appears sometimes animals just know when a certain person needs some extra attention.
Some of the main benefits researchers have discovered pet therapy offers to those with dementia include:
- Reducing agitation and negative behavioral expressions. One study conducted in 2002 revealed that after residents spent time with a dog in the Alzheimer’s center within an assisted living community, they experienced fewer moments of upsetnd other behavior changes throughout the day.
- Improving nutrition. After visiting with an animal, another study showed residents ate more and actually started to gain some weight over time. As an added bonus, these residents required fewer nutritional supplements which reduced some of the costs associated with their care.
- Boosting physical activity levels. Simply stroking fur, tossing a ball, or going for a brief walk are all ways animals improve the level of activity an individual with dementia can participate in daily.
- Easing feelings of loneliness and depression. The soothing presence of a pet provides the companionship and unconditional love so many seniors crave. It’s difficult to stay angry or anxious when a pet looks at you with a goofy grin, or nudges your hand asking to be pet.
Even if owning a pet is not feasible, today, technology offers an additional solution: robotic pets. Robotic therapy pets emerged in the early 2000s, but recently have caught on in popularity. For instance, Hasbro has a line of robotic cats called Joy for All Companion Pets, which provide an affordable pet therapy option in place of the real deal. These robotic pets blink, purr and roll over, and most importantly offer a calming effect on individuals with dementia. One memory care community saw remarkable results in reduced agitation and anxiety in residents after introducing the robotic cats to them. The cats allowed these individuals living with dementia to feel like a caregiver again, giving them a sense of purpose and pride in their day.
American Senior Communities offers a person-centered, wellness-based model of dementia care within our Auguste’s Cottage program and our assisted living memory care apartments throughout our locations. Contact us today to request more information.