Animal Therapy for Dementia Patients
Speaking with animal therapy practitioners and researches and they will tell you stories about how therapy dogs have successfully helped dementia patients. “Even people with Alzheimer’s recognize a dog, and they see that the dog is someone new in their environment. I think they see it as someone with whom they can interact without any worry,” explains Mara M. Baun, DNSc, a coordinator of the PhD in nursing program at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at the Houston School of Nursing in Houston.
She has been researching the benefits of therapy animals for over a decade. In one of her studies, she and her team compared degrees of social interaction of adults in an Alzheimer’s unit with and without the presence of a dog. “When they had the pet with them, they had more interactive behaviors, although some of them were aimed at the dog, not at the person,” she says. Her work has shown that this effect is consistent whether the dog and dementia patients interact one-on-one or in a group setting. In addition to stimulating social response, dementia patients can benefit from the presence of therapy animals because of:
• Reducing Agitation: Common among dementia patients, agitation behaviors are reduced in the presence of a dog.
• Physical Activity: Dependent on the patient’s mobility they may be able to groom the animal, toss a ball or even go for a short walk with them, allowing the patient to get some exercise.
• Improved Eating: Dementia patients have been shown to eat more following a dog’s visit.
• Pleasure: Some patients simply enjoy the presence of a dog and its human companion, as well as the tricks therapy dogs can do.