Many people know that dogs are good companions, but recent clinical studies point to the beneficial impact of canine companionship on emotional and physical health as well. In fact, Dr. Elizabeth Pegg Frates, clinical assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and editor of Harvard Special Health Report commented, “There’s a reason dogs are called our best friends: not only do they offer unparalleled companionship, but a growing body of research shows they also boost our health.”
Pets have been found to offer health benefits such as, decreasing the heart rate and blood pressure, boosting serotonin (a hormone in the brain that involves elevated mood), and lowering the stress and inflammation related hormone, cortisol.
A study of Italian women in their 80s, discovered those who spent just an hour and a half per week playing, walking and petting dogs had higher scores on mental tests than before they interacted with canines. The group that spent 90 minutes per week with dogs also scored higher than the control group (women of similar age who did not have canine contact).
Canine Companionship and Alzheimer’s Disease
What does this mean for those with Alzheimer’s disease(AD)? Not only can the companionship of dogs socially benefit those with AD, but short canine visits can also help with symptoms of anxiety or depression. One interesting aspect of interaction with pets (as it relates to Alzheimer’s disease) is that it can trigger good memories. Lori Goodcuff, director of the Alzheimer’s Companion Respite Program at the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation, said, “In the later stages of the disease, it’s important to work with as many senses as we can, and being able to pet a dog is tactile and cognitively stimulating.”
If you plan to take a dog to visit someone with Alzheimer’s dementia, be aware that the reaction from the person with AD may not always be predictable.
Tips for Planning a Canine Visit with a Person with AD
- Morning or early afternoon visits may be the best time for a canine visit. You may want to avoid the evening time when some people with AD experience Sundowners. CLICK HERE to learn more about symptoms such as Sundowners at AlzU.org.
- If your dog has high energy and engages in excess barking, jumping, or does not have a good temperament when it comes to socialization, it may not be a good idea for the dog to visit a person with AD.
- Keep in mind that the response may not always be the same, some days a person with AD may be happy to spend time with a four-legged friend; at other times it may trigger some anxiety or feelings of annoyance.
- Keep visits relatively short to avoid over stimulation, observe for any signs of agitation (such as facial grimacing), and cut the visit short if need be.
Resources for Canine Companions that Benefit People with AD
There are many online resources for people with Alzheimer’s who are interested in companion pets to help with AD. CLICK HERE to learn more about companion pets, and to find out where to purchase a canine companion specially trained to benefit people with dementia.
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