Man’s Best Friend: Dog Therapy in Dementia

As there is currently no cure for dementia, increasing focus over the past several years has concentrated on improved levels of care and alternative therapies – critical in helping both people with dementia and their caregivers.

One such therapy is Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). Previous studies have highlighted the supportive effects that animals can have on people’s mental and physical health, as well as provide therapeutic benefits for children and adults with ADHD and autism.

AAT and what Science Says

For Mental Health:

  • The simple act of patting an animal releases an automatic relaxation response.
  • Human interaction with animals has been associated with in an increase in the release of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin which are all connected with raising mood. 
  • CanLowers anxiety and helps people relax.
  • Provides comfort and feelings of well-being.
  • Reduces loneliness.
  • Increases mental stimulation.
  • Can help nurture the recall of past memories.
  • Can provide an means of escape or happy distraction from concerns and agitation.

For Physical Health:

  • Lowers blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health.
  • Breathing slows in those who are anxious.
  • Has been found to diminish overall physical pain.

Put simply, when people pet or cuddle their animal, their body releases endorphins and other hormones which help provide an overall “feel-good” factor.

More specifically in relation to dementia, studies have also shown dog therapy to help people in a number of additional ways:

  • It can relieve the so-called sundown syndrome, which manifests itself in increased agitation, restlessness and disorientation and aggressive behaviour.
  • It can lead to increased physical activity whereby people can pet a dog or take it for a walk.
  • It can improve short-terms memory and communication skills.
  • It can reduce loneliness and feels of connection and purpose.
  • It can prove beneficial in improving cognitive function by encouraging the person to pay attention, becoming more orientated in the environment or evoking memories from the past as shown in this study.

These findings confirm what many animal lovers amongst us already know: our family pets are important to us in ways that we can be inclined to underestimate.

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