Animals have offered companionship to humans throughout history, providing unconditional love and support when we may need it most. Think about how happy it made you to see your faithful dog run up to greet you at the end of a long day, or how calm you felt as you stroked your cat’s fur and listened to him purr contentedly.
Some studies suggest that spending as little as 15 minutes bonding with an animal can promote positive hormonal changes within the brain. Petting and playing with animals produces the “feel-good” hormone, serotonin, and decreases your stress levels. Pets also provide additional emotional, mental and physical health benefits to those of all ages.
The Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy for Individuals Living with Dementia
These health benefits can be especially important for seniors, and for this reason, senior living communities across the nation incorporate animal assisted therapy into their regularly-scheduled activities offered to residents. These animals promote health and healing for seniors with a variety of chronic conditions, help provide emotional stability during times of distress, improve socialization, and even provide some much-needed physical activity.
For individuals living with dementia, pet therapy programs do more than just brighten the days of these residents; they also provide additional important health benefits. Animals make wonderful companions to those in any stage of Alzheimer’s or dementia, as they do not judge behavior and actions. These special creatures also have a way of knowing when some residents may need some extra attention, and it’s common for these individuals to form strong bonds with the therapy pets.
The main benefits researchers have discovered regarding pet therapy for those with dementia include:
- Decreasing anxiety and agitation. A 2002 study revealed that after memory care residents spent time with a therapy dog, they experienced less anxiety, agitation and exhibited fewer negative behavioral changes throughout the day. More recently, in 2008 another study found that individuals living with dementia experienced a variety of psychological benefits due to the therapy animal’s unconditional acceptance, which increased their self-esteem and allowed them to interact socially in ways they previously could not.
- Improving mood and reducing depression. You know how it’s difficult to stay sad when a dog licks your face, or when a cat head-bumps you asking to be pet? For seniors with dementia, the soothing presence of a pet provides the companionship and unconditional love so many of them crave.
- Boosting physical activity levels. Animals provide individuals living with dementia the opportunity to stay active in small ways that can make a difference. For instance, going for a brief walk around the community, tossing a ball, or simply stroking fur are all ways animals improve activity levels.
- Improving nutrition. After visiting with an animal, residents tend to eat more, leading to what may be much-needed weight gain over time. As an added bonus, these residents require fewer nutritional supplements, which reduce some of the costs associated with their care.
The “Chief Executive Cuddler” at Saint Simeon’s: Simone the Therapy Dog
The mascot of Saint Simeon’s, Simone the Golden Retriever, is everyone’s dog and brightens the lives of residents daily. She has a way of reminding residents of pets they used to have, and she spends time in both our Memory Center and other parts of the community. We also have other therapy dogs visit regularly to enhance residents’ overall quality of life.
Additionally, Saint Simeon’s recognizes the benefits animals and nature can have on residents’ quality of life. Our campus, located just a few miles from downtown Tulsa, boasts beautiful grounds with ample opportunities for birdwatching, as well as relaxing fish ponds, walking and rolling paths, and vibrant flora that encourages residents to get outside and enjoy nature. Watch this video featuring Flora and Fauna Coordinator, Kathy Hinkle, to learn more about the benefits plants and animals offer to seniors at Saint Simeon’s.
You’ll find the compassionate, individualized memory care and the support your loved one needs at the Memory Center at Saint Simeon’s. We offer a comfortable, home-like setting staffed by professionals specifically trained in Alzheimer’s and dementia care, with innovative services and amenities that allow residents to thrive. For more information about applying for admission to our memory center, please contact us today.