People living with dementia can benefit emotionally and physically from animal companionship according to several studies. Benefits include improved cardiac function, reduced aggression, and an increase in verbal or social interactions. The exact mechanisms that govern the causal pathways of animal therapy are still being investigated. However, exisiting evidence is encouraging, and there is practical guidance for facilities who wish to develop an animal visitation program or establish an in-facility pet. The main ways to incorporate animal companionship into the care home setting is either through 24 hour live-in pets or through regularly scheduled animal therapy sessions. If you are planning to have an in-facility pet, there are some important considerations to consider before the pet arrives.

  • How will the pet’s needs for food, physical activity, and veterinary care be provided?  Responsibility for pet oversight needs to be clear among staff.
  • What are the facility rules for the pet? Residents and staff need to know where and when the pet will be fed to avoid overfeeding.
  • Does your pet have his or her own space? Most likely your pet will need a place to call his or her own, and will also need to be kept out of dining areas during meals.
  • Do you have any residents who might me allergic to the pet? It is important to consult with your medical director and review your regional laws and regulations on residents and therapy animals.

If an in-facility pet is not a practical consideration for your organization, you might consider bringing in therapy animals as a part of your activities plan. Animal assisted therapy allows animals to be used in therapeutic activities such as psychological or physiotherapy sessions. Animal visitation programmes aim to provide a positive environment where residents are able to connect with the animal, experience the tactile stimulation of touching the animal, and stimulate verbalization through communication with the pet. A specially trained animal therapist can bring the pet to your facility and oversee group or individual visitation sessions. Many of the same safety and health concerns that pertain to live-in pets also pertain to visitation. Visiting animals might be a better option for large facilities, where care of the animal might be difficult to assign and having a greater number of residents increases the odds that any one resident suffers from severe allergies.

Would your community adopt a pet or bring in outside animals for visits? What thoughts do you have on the regulatory burden animals might pose or the benefits they might offer to dementia sufferers?

Photo courtesy cielokatie