close up photo of a brown and white cat; Pet therapy for seniors

Pet Therapy for Dementia

Pet therapy for dementia is a broad term that also includes animal-assisted therapy for people with Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia. Animal-assisted therapy is performed with a trained, certified animal whose handler prompts interaction with the patient based on treatment needs. Pet therapy is used to help improve an individual’s mental, social, emotional and physical function. The idea behind pet therapy for people with dementia is that animals are unconditionally loving by nature, making them the perfect therapist and companion. 

Some studies suggest that spending as little as 15 minutes bonding with an animal can promote positive hormonal changes within the brain. Petting and playing with animals produces the “feel-good” hormone, serotonin, while decreasing one’s level of stress. Pets also provide additional emotional, mental and physical health benefits to people of all ages.

The Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy for Individuals Living with Dementia

These health benefits can be especially important for seniors, and for this reason, senior living communities incorporate animal-assisted therapy into their regularly scheduled activities for residents. These animals promote health and healing for seniors with a variety of chronic conditions, emotional stability during times of distress, better socialization, and even some much-needed physical activity. For individuals living with dementia, pet therapy programs brighten each day and provide many other important benefits. 

Companionship. Animals don’t judge one’s actions or behavior. They have a way of knowing when a person may need extra attention. It’s common to see strong bonds form between therapy pets and their people. 

Less anxiety and agitation. It’s difficult to stay sad when a dog licks your face or when a cat head-bumps you asking for attention. The soothing presence of a pet will invariably help lift the mood of any person living with dementia.

More physical activity. Pets have a way of moving constantly that keeps you moving too. For individuals living with dementia, pets provide opportunities to stay active in small ways that make a difference. For instance, a brief walk around the community, tossing a ball, or simply petting the animal are all ways that help keep people engaged. 

Nonverbal communication. People connect with pets on a level beyond words. Residents with memory impairment are often frustrated by an inability to communicate effectively, but this frustration melts away in the presence of a loving animal. 

Joyful recall. Even those who are memory-challenged will have feelings and memories triggered through loving interaction with pets.

Memory Care at The Buckingham

At The Buckingham, our memory care team members work carefully to employ the most comprehensive and impactful approaches to helping residents live with dementia within a household-like environment. Our team members serve from the heart, helping you and your loved one have the best experience possible during this tender time. Visit our Memory Support page to learn more about all the memory support programming offered at The Buckingham.