Does Having a Dog Help Patients with Alzheimer’s?

Like something akin to Newton’s Law, the sight of a dog can make just about anyone smile. Even on a lousy day, it’s nearly impossible not to be cheered up at the sight of a floppy-eared dog excitedly wagging its tail. Numerous documented benefits come from owning a dog or even being around a dog.

Cognitive Benefits of Dogs

While dogs can bring benefits to us all including companionship, love, and fun, for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they can help improve the quality of life. Their presence can help reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s disease such as anxiety, agitation, irritability, depression, and loneliness. In a study conducted on an Alzheimer’s special care unit, researchers looked at the effects of a dog on the behavior of patients with Alzheimer’s disease at a residential facility. The residents’ behavior was measured for four weeks after a dog was placed there.

Participants showed significantly fewer behavior problems during the four weeks of the study. This is evidence of the positive impact that dogs have on people with cognitive impairment. A dog’s friendship and loyalty can also help dementia patients be more interactive when they may not normally able to do so. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits that come with Alzheimer’s patients having a dog.

Alzheimer’s and Dogs

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As discussed, researchers have long suggested that dogs are good for us and even offer health benefits. It stands to reason, then, that finding four-legged friends in Alzheimer’s and dementia facilities are becoming commonplace. In fact, some care facilities now have full-time pet coordinators to aid in the care of residents’ pets.

While care facilities are seeing the advantages of dogs, the same benefits can be seen with a dog in the home. For a person that has been diagnosed, the Alzheimer’s brain is in slow cognitive decline. With the death of brain cells as a result of the disease, patients experience memory loss, a decline in thinking abilities, and major personality changes. As the disease progresses, the person declines. Friendship, reducing anxiety and agitation, increased mobility, and improved interactions and socialization are all benefits of a dog in the home of an Alzheimer’s patient. Interventions that include a dog usually lead to improved self-esteem and confidence in people with dementia. Dogs have also been shown to help keep these patients engaged and to encourage independence.

Besides general companionship, a dog could also be trained as an Alzheimer’s service dog. These dogs can be trained to assist their owners with a variety of daily tasks, including alerting them when a stove is left on, identifying their car in a crowded parking lot, and directing them to their house if they get lost while on a walk. These protective pups not only provide for the cognitive health of their owners, but they also help keep them safe.

Considerations For Dog Ownership

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There are some considerations to remember when it comes to getting a dog for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Four-legged friends can be tripping hazards for the elderly, so that will need to be considered. Also, if the person with Alzheimer’s doesn’t remember to feed the pet, someone like a caregiver will need to be available to take care of it. The same is true for keeping up with grooming, and shots, and vet visits.

Additionally, things such as walking and playing with the dog need to be considered. A harness for the dog might be a better option than just a collar with a leash, as it might be easier to manage. Ultimately, the person’s stage of illness and behaviors should be considered when deciding if a dog is a wise decision. Their doctor might also be able to provide some insight on the matter as well. If ownership is not deemed appropriate, it could be beneficial to have a dog just come and visit occasionally.

No matter what the situation is with a person that has memory loss and cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s disease, there could be definite advantages of having contact with a dog. Scientists and medical professionals alike all agree that adults with Alzheimer’s benefit from the presence of a furry companion.