Many seniors love pets, and will find any excuse to spend time with cats, dogs, fish, or birds. Alzheimer’s patients can particularly benefit from pet companions. How so?
The Benefits of Pets
Alzheimer’s affects emotional and mental abilities. Common behavioral symptoms such as agitation, anxiety, anger, and depression become more and more prevalent as the disease progresses. It becomes harder to reach the person’s “essence within.” Some pets seem to be able to reach and calm that inner person because they give unconditional love.
- One veterinarian stated, “Dogs probably don’t feel love in the typical way humans do. Dogs make investments in human beings because those investments work for them. . . . The more ‘cute factor’ they give us, the more we feel like they love us.”
- One elderly person with chronic pain and depression expressed her feelings about her cat, saying, “She senses when I need her most and when I’m holding my own. We talk a lot, and she loves for me to sing to her, which is good therapy for me. Her intuition is uncanny and beyond comparison.”
- Another vet is quoted as saying, “[My dog] seems to know when I am feeling down and gives me more attention at those times. She lets me know when she doesn’t like something, when she’s having a great time, or when she doesn’t feel good. She is obedient when I give her directions. She recognizes her ‘friends’ (both people and animal) and greets them enthusiastically.”
The reality is that a pet’s love isn’t the complex love that humans feel, but it is a deep attachment with unconditional loyalty. The feelings that pets inspire are beneficial in calming behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s. In addition, a pet doesn’t care if your loved one has a bad day, can’t remember a name, has food-filled teeth, or needs to blow his or her nose. A pet isn’t judgmental, jaded, cynical, or prejudiced. A pet just wants to be petted and loved.
Choose the Right Pet
Of course, the pet must meet the needs of the Alzheimer’s patient. A barking dog, a nervous cat, or a loud, squawking bird might be counterproductive. The pet should be a companion that is soothing or calming to your loved one. When the time comes, and the disease has reached its final progression, a stuffed animal that resembles the loved pet can be used as a replacement. The bond that grew between the two over the months or years will be remembered and felt even though it is not the live pet. Therefore, it is important to match the pet with the person.