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How Getting a Dog Can Help Seniors Struggling With Dementia

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According to the World Health Organization, about 55 million people worldwide deal with the effects of dementia. As the Baby Boomer generation continues to get older, that number is expected to rise.

Dementia is a debilitating disease that robs people of their memories, but it can also be terrifying for those dealing with it. Eventually, the illness can cause people to feel lost and alone, even when they’re in familiar surroundings and with people they know.

While there is currently no cure for dementia, there are ways to alleviate the struggles that often come with it – including getting a dog.

At first, the idea of someone with dementia having a dog might not seem plausible. But, dogs can help in a variety of ways, providing companionship and care when someone needs it most. If you’re a caregiver or have a loved one with dementia, you might be surprised by how much of a positive influence a dog can have on their life.

The Mental Health Benefits of Having a Dog

Dementia can be frightening and confusing for the person going through it. Mental health management is crucial to promoting a better quality of life, especially when it comes to staying calm, reducing stress, and fighting back against the anxious thoughts that the disease can trigger. It’s widely known that dogs can benefit your mental health in a variety of ways, including

  • Lowering stress levels
  • Boosting energy
  • Calming anxiety
  • Helping with depression

It’s easy for those with dementia to feel alone, and a dog can provide companionship to ease that loneliness, as well.

Dementia episodes can be triggered by different things, but a lack of routine and no stimulation are two common culprits. A dog can provide someone with dementia with both. Dogs thrive on routine and allow a person with dementia to stimulate their mind through daily care and enriching activities.

Because dogs need daily exercise, they’ll also encourage you to stay active. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia, and can slow the progress of the illness in someone who already has it. Something as simple as taking a dog for a walk every day or spending some time at the local park can make a big difference in the severity of symptoms. Plus, being outside in nature is wonderful for the mental health of dementia patients, and a natural way to reduce stress. If you’re a constant caregiver, you’ll benefit from that stress relief, too!

A Canine Caregiver

It’s not uncommon for people with dementia or other memory issues to need help with things throughout the day.

While a dog isn’t a replacement for a human caregiver or nurse, it can serve as an “extra” caregiver throughout the day when a little help is needed, or simply to keep a watchful eye on its owner. Dog therapy is becoming an increasingly popular method for those dealing with dementia, but simply having a dog around to “look after” the person you’re caring for can help with increased agitation and restlessness, improve their short-term memory and communication skills, and keep them more physically active.

If you go one step further and adopt a service dog or one that has been trained to deal specifically with dementia, they can assist with things like

  • Tracking
  • Stability and balance
  • Behavior redirection

It’s best to get a dog breed that is relatively low-maintenance and won’t cause extra stress in your loved one or patient’s life. Finding the right small dog to be a companion is a great way to have a little extra care within the home, so they will never truly be alone, even when you can’t be there.

How to Prepare Your Patient and Their Home

If someone is in the early stages of dementia, now is a perfect time to get a dog. They can bond with them, train them, and get them used to the home so they can continue to be comfortable and familiar with their surroundings as the disease progresses. Getting a dog sooner, rather than later, may even help to slow down that progression and keep your patient feeling calmer and less stressed along the way.

Whether they’ve had a dog before or not, getting their home ready for a four-legged friend will make the new transition easier on everyone involved – including you. A few preparation ideas to keep in mind include

  • Removing hanging objects a puppy could reach
  • Keeping objects off the floor
  • Securing harmful substances/medications
  • Investing in a secure fence
  • Installing dog gates or investing in a crate

Dementia can be a lonely and unnerving disease. Having a dog around the home will reduce the impact of that loneliness and help your patient to feel less isolated. As a caregiver, a dog can also improve your mental health and keep you from feeling burnt out.

If you’re caring for someone with dementia, consider talking with them about the benefits of canine companionship. A dog will provide stability, routine, and comfort that will make this challenging stage of life much easier.

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