How Pet Therapy Can Help Seniors with Dementia

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Older adults with dementia have the same emotions that everyone else does. They can get frustrated, sad, bored, or angry just like other people do. If you have a pet, you may understand how much better they can make you feel when you’re having a bad day. They can have the same effect on seniors with dementia. In fact, pet therapy has become increasingly popular, and with good reason.

What Are the Benefits of Pet Therapy?

Research shows that engaging older adults with dementia in pet therapy has many different benefits. Some of the benefits caregivers should know about are:

  • Better Mood: Studies show that pets help dementia patients to engage more with other people. They also seem to put them in a better mood. This is an important benefit since dementia puts seniors at a higher risk for depression.
  • Calming: Being with animals has been proven to make people with dementia calmer. In fact, scientists have found that it even lowers blood pressure.
  • Fewer Challenging Behaviors: Having a pet in the home has been associated with a decrease in difficult behaviors, like aggression and agitation.
  • Better Nutrition: In one study, researchers put aquariums in a long-term care facility for dementia patients. They found that the residents ate more and needed fewer nutritional supplements.
  • More Physical Activity: When exposed to pets, people with dementia tend to move around more. They might follow the pet around, throw a ball for a dog, or wave a toy for a cat to chase.

What Kinds of Pet Therapy Are There?

There are lots of different kinds of animal-assisted therapy programs. They use all kinds of animals, including fish, dogs, cats, birds, and rabbits. Some pets used for therapy live in long-term care facilities. Others come to organizations to visit. In some communities, you may be able to find programs involving animals from the local zoo that lets older adults interact with an animal and learn about it.

Another way caregivers can expose older adults to pet therapy is through pets in the home. If you decide to add a pet, please keep in mind that adopting a pet is for the life of the pet. Make plans for who will take the pet in if the older adult passes away or moves to a facility. When choosing a pet, keep in mind that it will require some extra work for caregivers since the older adult may be unable to care for the pet on their own. If you’re concerned about the amount of work a pet will require, consider getting a lower maintenance pet, like a fish.


If you or an aging loved one are considering caregivers in Loudoun, VA, please contact the caring staff at Assisting Hands today. (703) 982-0050.