Is A Dog Good For Someone With Dementia? (A Therapeutic Bond Explored)

is a dog good for someone with dementia

Navigating the world of dementia can be a challenging journey for both the diagnosed and their loved ones.

There have been many discussions about providing someone with dementia a dog as a form of pet therapy.

But would such a companionship provide comfort or could it introduce additional troubles?

While dogs can potentially offer emotional support and companionship, they will also lead to increased responsibilities and potential safety concerns. It’s important to carefully evaluate the personal situation before introducing a dog into the life of someone with dementia.

With so many different perspectives and factors to consider, this article serves as an informative guide, offering expert insights to help you make informed decisions.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is a broad term that represents a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other cognitive skills.

This decline is severe enough to reach a stage where it starts to interfere with a person’s day-to-day activities such as brushing’s one teeth or finding the way home.

Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells with Alzheimer’s disease being the leading cause of dementia.

Symptoms of dementia include:

  • Frequent forgetfulness
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Frequent confusion
  • Difficulty in speaking

There isn’t a currently known cure for dementia and it can be a devastating disease that causes a loved one to be a shell of their former selves over time.

The good news is companies like Taurx have developed an oral medication that can drastically slow down the progress of dementia.

Can Dementia Patients Benefit From Having A Dog?

dementia patient with dog

I have always been a pet owner ever since I was a kid and have had cats, dogs, rabbits and even terrapins as pets.

There’s no doubt at all that having a dog or a pet can be beneficial to one’s life.

Sure, my current dog and cat can be a real pain in the butt at times but the joy, love and companionship that I have derived from them is beyond words.

In this context, dogs can provide a range of potential benefits for individuals with dementia.

Provide Emotional Support

The emotional and mental well-being of a person with dementia can be largely impacted.

The feeling of helplessness and just waiting to deteriorate can cause even the strongest of us to crumble.

The interaction with dogs can serve as a soothing balm.

A dog’s inherent capacity to love and comfort us without judgment can induce a sense of peace and security that’s often lost in dementia patients.

The simple act of interacting with a dog has been shown to lower cortisol levels in humans. Cortisol is a hormone that is released when one is feeling stressed.

Too much cortisol can cause many chronic health problems.

Interaction between the dementia patient and dog can also stimulate the release of oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” in the human brain.

Oxytocin is known to:

  • Lower anxiety
  • Improve mood
  • Promote calmness

These are all attributes anyone suffering from dementia should have more of.

This can lower blood pressure, reduce stress levels, and boost feelings of happiness.

Also, the companionship a dog offers may curb feelings of isolation and improve the quality of life of dementia patients.

Instil Routine And Structure

For individuals with dementia, a daily routine can help to reduce confusion and anxiety. Having a dog can provide that much-needed structure.

Dogs require a certain level of care and structure in their lives.

My dog eats at a certain time, pee and poops at a certain time and even goes to bed at a certain time.

These responsibilities can provide a sense of routine and purpose for individuals with dementia, who often struggle with the loss of structure in their daily lives.

This can most definitely help to boost their self-esteem.

Most of us have a routine from the time we wake up till the time we go to bed.

In the world of someone with dementia, structure can be something that they struggle with.

Having a dog encourages them to feed, walk and groom the dog at specific times of the day.

Promote Active Lifestyles

old person walking dog

Our bodies are made to move and there’s no exception for someone with dementia.

In fact, it is more important for dementia or Alzheimer’s patients to engage in regular physical activity.

If you have a loved one that has dementia, the last thing you want them to do is sit at home all day.

This can only make it worse.

Maintaining an active lifestyle plays a crucial role in overall health, motor skills, and a positive mental state.

For dementia patients, regular physical activity ensures sufficient blood circulation to the brain, potentially promoting the growth and longevity of brain cells.

Dogs need daily exercise and this will ensure that the dementia patient feels obliged to take the dog out for a walk.

Given that the majority of dementia sufferers are senior citizens, there’s no need for anything too physically challenging.

Just a 30-minute walk daily can do wonders for the mind and soul.

Cognitive Enhancement Through Canine Interaction

The brain is an organ that needs to be given a good workout to improve its performance.

Interacting with dogs presents numerous opportunities for cognitive stimulation, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals with dementia.

Having to remember the dog’s feeding schedule provides a consistent and practical task that keeps the mind engaged.

This can serve as a memory exercise which can help to keep the dementia patient’s mind sharp and in use.

Difficulty in problem-solving is one problem someone suffering from dementia faces.

Teaching or recalling established commands forces individuals to access their memory and problem-solving skills.

The regular repetition of these commands can also reinforce neural pathways, helping to maintain cognitive function.

When Is Having A Dog Not Suitable For Someone With Dementia?

While owning a dog can bring about numerous benefits for people with dementia, it’s also important to acknowledge and the potential challenges that may arise.

Not only do we need to look out for the dementia patient but also for the well-being of the dogs too.

Severity Of The Dementia

We need to understand that the progress of dementia cannot be halted.

As dementia progresses, the symptoms and adverse reactions will be more pronounced.

The early stages of dementia will make someone feel as if he or she is just being absent-minded or forgetful.

Once it gets into the later stages, it can turn the person into a vegetable.

At the onset, these alterations may not be readily noticeable because the symptoms usually manifest gradually.

As the disease advances, the symptoms start to become more pronounced due to the degradation in cognitive and functional capabilities, which begins to impede the individual’s routine daily activities.

If the dementia is still in the early stages, a therapy dog can definitely be a beneficial addition to the patient’s life.

However, if the patient’s dementia has reached a point whereby there are severe memory issues and cognitive disabilities, having a dog is not a good idea.

it is common to hear of dog owners with dementia with very obese pets because they keep forgetting that they have fed the dog which can mean too much food for the dog.

And dogs being dogs will happily gorge on the food which can lead to other health problems like canine bloat.

The dog owner might even forget to walk the dog and the poor canine will not be able to exercise and use the toilet outside the house.

Financial Cost Of Owning A Dog

money savings

Even though there isn’t a cure for dementia at this point, there are some drugs available that claim to retard the progress.

These drugs can be expensive and the cost of dementia can also include other forms of treatment and doctor visits.

Medical bills can easily pile up from hundreds to thousands of dollars each month.

There are also costs to owning a dog such as food, grooming and vet bills which can amount to a few thousand dollars annually.

If the dementia patient is already struggling to cover their own medical piles, it wouldn’t make sense to add to the financial burden of having a dog.

Life After Death

The average life expectancy of most common types of dementia is around 8-10 years. Some patients can live up to 20 years.

Given that the average life span for most dog breeds is 10-13 years, there’s a chance that the owner might pass on before the dog.

When that happens, what is going to happen to the dog?

The poor dog will also be in its senior eyes and probably require special care. Chances are it will be surrendered to the shelter as old dogs aren’t very popular.

This is very traumatic for the dog to lose its owner and be thrown into an unfamiliar environment.

They can be a forgotten victim in the trail of pain dementia leaves behind.

What Other Options Are There?

All is not lost if having a dog as a permanent pet isn’t the best option for the dementia patient.

There are still ways to incorporate animal assisted therapy into the patient’s life without putting the dog at any risk.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs can play a significant role in the lives of those battling dementia

These dogs are specially selected for their calm and gentle demeanor.

A therapy pet can also include other species of animals such as horses, guinea pigs, rabbits and cats.

There are pet therapy organizations that might be able to do regular home visits to allow the dementia patient to interact with the dog.

This allows the patient to experience all the benefits of having a dog around without having to actually care for it.

This interaction is directed and facilitated by professionals, ensuring that the dogs adhere to specific ethical and professional standards.

You can also do the same if you have an easy-going dog that is happy to spend a few hours in the home of a loved one with dementia.

Get A Robot Dog

If pet therapy isn’t available in your area, therapy pets can come in the form of a robot dog.

There are companies that are building life-like robotic dogs that can mimic the sound and simple actions of a real-life dog.

These robot dogs can help provide sensory stimulation and encourage the dementia patient to interact with the dog.


Do Dogs Help With Memory Loss?

Dogs can provide therapeutic help for those experiencing memory loss. Interactions with dogs can help to evoke past memories and emotions which can help to strengthen the memory.

Do Dogs Sense Dementia?

A dog’s heightened senses allow them to pick up on changes in human behavior and emotions. They may not technically understand dementia but they can often demonstrate heightened empathy and adjusted behavior.

How To Take A Pet Away From A Dementia Patient?

When the current owner is no longer able to care for the pet properly, remove the pet gently and give the person the required support.

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