4 ways animals can help people living with dementia

Sean Whiting, Director of specialist country, equestrian and pet supplies store Houghton Country, tells us how those living with dementia can benefit from being around animals.

We know our pets bring us love and companionship, but they also have so many other benefits that make them an excellent form of therapy.

For those living with dementia, feelings of anxiety, depression, irritability, confusion and loneliness can make life difficult. But by having pets like cats, dogs, birds or even rabbits, some of these symptoms can be relieved.

Below, I’ll be outlining just some of the benefits animals can have for those living with dementia, and how you can introduce them to your loved one safely.

Improved mental health

Dementia can be scary if your loved one often forgets where they are or what they’re doing, but pets provide a lot of love and affection which can help to provide a sense of comfort and security in unfamiliar situations.

This comfort and affection also releases a hormone in our body called oxytocin (the happy hormone). Recent research has concluded that dog owners have higher levels of oxytocin when stroking their dogs (NCBI). So, pets are proven to help boost mood, increase happiness, and reduce the feelings of anxiety and depression that may occur with dementia, too.

Assistance with fetching objects

Two common symptoms of dementia are reduced mobility and an inability to recognise objects. But having pets around could actually help with this.

Therapy dogs are often used by those with low mobility to fetch objects from around the house, and this can also be the case for those with dementia. This can provide a sense of independence for your loved one, as asking for help from a human can be embarrassing and, this way, they’re not having to rely on another person to carry out tasks for them.

Improved socialisation

For those with dementia, recognising faces and settings can be more difficult, which leads to feelings of confusion and loneliness. Having pets around can provide a constant sense of companionship for your loved one. And, because you don’t need to recognise an animal to interact with it fully, they can still get the full benefit from their affection.

For those with dementia, speech can be difficult, and the social expectations that are involved when interacting with humans may become confusing. Pets are non-judgemental, that’s why we love them so much. So, simple and quiet socialisation with animals can be a big relief for those who may find social interaction slightly more difficult.

Flexibility with care

If you’re thinking of adopting a pet for your loved one, you’ll need to think practically about their ability to care for them. During the early stages of dementia, your loved one may find it easy to look after their own pet, especially if it’s one they had before their diagnosis. But, as symptoms start to worsen, caring for an animal can become more difficult.

Luckily, there are more flexible options when it comes to introducing animals to someone with dementia. If animal care will be more difficult, you could consider getting your own pet or finding another pet owner who is willing to bring their animal over for visits. Care homes often have animal visitors to aid with the wellbeing of their residents and, in some cases, they even have a pet living with them that is cared for by the staff.

This means those with dementia can still get all the benefits of being around
animals, but they don’t have the responsibility of looking after them. Plus, the animal can be taken away if the person starts to feel overwhelmed or overstimulated.

Animals can have some great benefits on our health and wellbeing. And, for those with dementia, the benefits listed in this guide can really help to improve their mood and quality of life.