…how animal therapy helps dementia patients by Madeline Vann, MPH for Everyday Health
“Even people with Alzheimer’s recognize a dog and they see that the dog is someone new in their environment. I think they see it as someone with whom they can interact without any worry,” explains Mara M. Baun, DNSc, a coordinator of the PhD in nursing program at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at the Houston School of Nursing.
Baun has been researching the benefits of therapy animals for over a decade. In one of her studies, she and her team compared degrees of social interaction of adults in an Alzheimer’s unit with and without the presence of a dog.
When they had the pet with them, they had more interactive behaviors, although some of them were aimed at the dog, not the person,” she says. Her work has shown this effect is consistent whether the dog and dementia patients interact one-on-one or in a group setting.
In addition to stimulating a social response, dementia patients may benefit from the presence of therapy animals because of:
Reduced agitation. Agitation behaviors, common among dementia patients, are reduced in the presence of a dog.
Physical activity. Depending on a patient’s mobility, they may be able to groom the animal, toss a ball, or even go for a short walk.
Improved eating. Dementia patients have been shown to eat more following a dog’s visit.
Pleasure. Some patients simply enjoy the presence of the dog and its human companion, as well as the tricks therapy dogs can do.
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