How Pets & Animals Benefit Seniors with Alzheimer’s Disease

Pets and other animals have the tendency to make people happy, brighten their day and distract from everyday troubles. No matter what type of animal, i.e., dog, cat, horse, bird or even fish, animals are known to have therapeutic properties. Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, in particular, can benefit in an increasing number of ways from a pet or other animal’s therapeutic traits. Physical health, emotional well-being and social involvement are among the many ways seniors with memory impairments benefit from pets and animal therapy.

According to Sue Sunderland, Executive Director at The Bridges at Warwick, a senior living community in Jamison, PA, animals can easily enhance resident’s overall quality of life just by being there. “Animals are often associated with happy times and fond memories, as many residents had pets or were around animals when they were younger,” says Sue. “Since seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia are able to recall moments from when they were younger easier than more recent memories, many remember their childhood pets and tell stories about them when they see another animal. Even if they didn’t have a pet as children, a visit from other residents’ pets or a visit from someone specializing in animal or pet therapy can give seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia a boost in health and quality of life.”

Physical Health

Depending on what kind of pet or animal seniors have, it’s possible for them to benefit from physical benefits because of being a pet owner. Even those who are exposed to animals can take advantage of the physical health benefits of being around them. Some of the physical health benefits include:

  • Exercise. Owning pets can lead to increased levels of physical activity, making your loved one healthier and even happier, thanks to an increased amount of positive endorphins. Walking and playing with pets can spur other positive health changes, too.

  • Cardiovascular health. Heart health is easily able to be improved thanks to pets. Because of frequent interaction with pets and animals, those who are animal lovers tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol which can protect them from heart disease.

  • Improved self-care. Those who have pets are used to developing a routine of care. When they take care of their pets, they also tend to make time to care for themselves. Having a pet can also establish a feeling of responsibility, which means that they need to stay well so their pets can, too.

Emotional Well-Being

Many seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia can begin to feel depressed as time goes by as a result of not being able to communicate how they would like to and not being able to do things on their own as much. While pet and animal therapy doesn’t exactly “cure” emotions, it can significantly improve mindset and distract from negative feelings. Pet and animal therapy helps to:

  • Decrease feelings of isolation. Because of the companionship that pets provide, seniors are less likely to feel lonely and more likely to get out and take their pet for a walk.

  • Increase self-esteem. Pets and animals help seniors feel loved and accepted regardless of their age, disease or abilities. The love that animals have for their owners and others has no boundaries.

  • Improve mental health. Pets and animals help to provide seniors with a natural and holistic form of stress relief. Pets and animals also help seniors to feel less depressed, confused and angry.

Social Involvement

Did you ever notice how easy it is to talk to animals or to talk to other people about their animals? This is one of the main reasons that pets and animals are so good for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Increased social involvement can end up leading to many different social benefits such as:

  • Higher levels of interaction. Having a pet helps seniors to get out of the house and be around people more than they would otherwise. This increases the number of opportunities to socialize with others.

  • More interest in activities. As a result of increased levels of interaction, those with pets may be more likely to go out and be involved in various clubs and activities.

  • Stimulation of memory. As was stated before, being around animals and pets can help to make loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia more lucid. When their memories are stimulated, they are able to communicate and connect with others easier.

Before deciding to get a pet, consider what type would best suit your loved one. If your loved one is not able to give a dog the attention it needs or is not able to take the dog for walks, perhaps a cat would be a better option. If your loved one is allergic to cats, suggest a bird or fish, as they are easier to take care of. Ensure that the pet  will be a suitable fit for your loved one. Make sure that their personality matches well, that your loved one is able to take care of the pet and be sure that your loved one will be able to afford it.

If a pet is not a good option for your loved one, there are still other options available. Take your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia to a petting zoo, if they are able. If you know someone with a farm and your loved one used to live on a farm, take them to see it. They might be able to recall some old stories and memories that can help them to take advantage of animal therapy. If your loved one doesn’t mind crowds or noise as much, try taking them to a zoo or aquarium.

“One of the easiest ways to soak up some pet and animal therapy is by watching videos of animals,” says Sue. “Many of the residents enjoy watching funny cat and dog videos. Not only does it make them laugh and cause a boost in happiness, but it allows us as caregivers to connect with our loved ones better.”

For more information on how to help a senior through their memory loss journey, or to learn how to better connect with them, contact us today.

Activity. Friendship. Support. Convenience. Value.

Now open, you’ll find it all at The Bridges at Warwick, located in beautiful Bucks County, where everyday is a celebration of seniors. Our philosophy of “Celebrating Life” means that our residents enjoy a sense of purpose and contentment along with fun, personalized care and a focus on total well-being.

Our Personalized Supportive Care provides just the right amount of assistance to help you remain independent, along with life-enriching programs, services and amenities. Our exclusive Vista Transitional Living Program is for our supportive care residents who have memory challenges but do not yet require a secure residence. For those whose memory loss is more advanced, we offer The Vista, our specialized, comprehensive memory care residence.

In keeping with our founder Robert Basile’s personal philosophy, developed during his efforts to find quality senior living for his beloved father, senior adults remain our passion. We fill our residents’ lives with countless opportunities to engage with both new and treasured friends; events and programs to enjoy with family members and loved ones; as well as innovative and creative activities that foster engagement. Our dedication to total wellness – for mind, body and spirit – is woven into our culture every day.

Contact us today or call 215.269.7745 for more information or to arrange a personal tour.


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