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Doctor Cate McCarty - Pets and Quality of Life for Persons with Dementia

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With so many forms of dementia, it is increasingly difficult for caregivers to provide quality of life as their loved ones enter the final stages of brain change. Strategies which once were successful, may not be as successful now. Research shows a consensus on what caregivers’ value for their loved one at end-of-life:

  • Family involvement
  • Living in the present
  • Pragmatic expectations
  • Autonomy and individuality1

Yet, family involvement often diminishes as the loved one declines; expectations are often not realistic, and autonomy limited due to physical and cognitive changes. 

Several studies found individuals living in the later stage of dementia were positively affected by animal-assisted interventions.2 A study comparing nursing home residents who received a 30-minute session twice a week with a companion-trained dog to residents who did not experience these pet interactions, residents experiencing the sessions had significantly lower depression scores than the control group. The dog group also exhibited a significant increase on quality of life ratings. 

Companion pets have been shown to not only impact the individual with dementia’s mental health, but their physical health as well.3 Studies showed companion pets were associated with marked increases in physical activity and improvements in blood pressure and heart rate variability.

If orchestrating a trained dog visit or having a companion pet is not feasible, consider a robotic pet.  A meta-analysis of numerous studies showed use of a robotic pet with people living with dementia exhibited a significant decline in behaviors and psychological symptoms of dementia including depression. 4 Robotic pets are available to purchase online with a price range manageable for most budgets.

As your loved one moves into the final stage of brain decline, comfort can come in the form of a pet to touch and cuddle; often providing the whole family with a sense of well-being.

Footnotes

1Hill, S.R., Mason, H., Poole, M., Vale, L., Robinson, L, et al. (2017). What is important at the end of life for people with dementia? The views of people with dementia and their careers, International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 32(9): 1037-1045.

2Olsen, C., Pedersen, I., Bergland, A., Enders-Slegers, M.J., Patil, G., et al., (2016). Effect of animal-assisted interventions on depression, agitation and quality of life in nursing home