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Are Pets Good for Alzheimer's Patients?

Get answers to your questions about pets and Alzheimer's. Seniorly explains how being around animals can help loved ones with Alzheimer's feel more themselves.

By Emma Rodbro · Updated Aug 08, 2022
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Are Pets Good For Alzheimer's Patients?

Get answers to your questions about pets and Alzheimer's. Seniorly explains how being around animals can help loved ones with Alzheimer's feel more themselves.

Do you have a loved one with Alzheimer's or other memory issues? Are you concerned about how devastated they might feel if they had to give up their pet to go into an assisted living community? Don't worry — Plenty of memory care communities near you are happy to let your loved one's pet join them.

These senior living communities are fully aware of how comforting and beneficial it can be for seniors to have their beloved pets with them. Pets help reduce the confusion that comes with Alzheimer's, sundowner's syndrome, and other forms of dementia, and they also help soothe their owners during periods of agitation. Having their pet with them can help your loved one experience greater social interaction, improvement in appetite, and greater cognitive stimulation, thanks to the emotional support provided by the pets.

Take a look at some of the answers to your questions about a pet-friendly assisted living facility, memory care community, and other senior living options.

What are some of the benefits a pet can provide?

Many dogs, in particular, are trained specifically to help patients with dementia, and any dog can provide assistance by helping their owner to find their way home, whether by guiding the way through confusing hallways in an assisted living community or choosing the right path between buildings in a larger senior care community. Putting a GPS tracker on the dog's collar can also help if your loved one has a tendency to wander.

In addition, your loved one's dog will encourage greater sociability, provide a greater sense of self-confidence and happiness, serve as a listener who's always there, bark to provide warnings or protection, and even serve as a physical aid if your loved one has difficulty climbing stairs or rising from a deep sofa.

Cats are particularly useful as comfort animals. Many Alzheimer's patients who get agitated easily find themselves much calmer with a cat that sits on their lap or curls up next to them on the bed at night.

Are dogs and cats the only pets helpful to people with dementia?

While dogs and cats may be the most popular pets, people with pets as small as fish can experience many benefits. A 2009 study at Purdue University revealed the calming and beneficial effects of having a pet as small as a fish. Elderly patients with an aquarium eat better and need fewer nutritional supplements. They're less prone to wander or become agitated, and they require less medication — and they even see improvement in their short term memory.

Who takes care of the animals?

This is a good question to ask at the memory care community near you. As dementia progresses, your loved one may not be able to remember when it's time to feed their pets or scoop the litter box. They may put on a dog's leash, then forget why they did it, failing to take the dog out when it needs to go out.

Many senior living communities are happy to provide basic animal care because they're aware of the beneficial aspects of having a pet around, but you should ask all your questions before you make any commitments. Some communities may charge extra for pet care, and some may have restrictions on the size of dogs they'll accept.

If you're concerned about your loved one becoming less sociable, refusing to eat, or becoming anxious and agitated, think about the difference a pet might make. Pets bring unconditional love with no criticism or judgment, making them ideal companions for those with dementia. Talk to your loved one's staff at their senior care facility about the possibility of bringing in a dog, a cat, a bird, or even an aquarium with a few fish to help boost your loved one's interaction and comfort.

Looking for a pet-friendly community near you?

Seniorly can help you search and find a home that will accommodate your pets and your preferences in terms of location, budget, size, services, languages, and pet policies.  Just enter your zip code below.

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written by:
Emma Rodbro

Emma Rodbro

Head of Growth Operations at Seniorly, MA in Social Work with focus on aging from UC Berkeley.
View other articles written by Emma

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