By: Gary LeBlanc
Many caregivers are searching for natural health remedies these days. One treatment I’ve discovered that takes the edge off the anxiety of those living with dementia is a loveable pet.
When I was caring for my dad there were times where he became saturated with confusion. I would simply place our cat named Kitty on his lap and casually tell him that Kitty was lonesome and in dire need of love and attention. Giving both his hands and his mind something to focus on, his panic seemed to evaporate as soon as the purring commenced.
A characteristic of most dementia related diseases is the loss of ambition. Including a pet as part of their environment helps motivate these people with a sense of responsibility and purpose.
Many times, I walked into our kitchen and found five bowls of milk on the floor; I never had to worry about our cat starving. Then my father would ask (loudly) if I had fed the cat–repeatedly. But I soon learned our furry friend made my life easier.
Pet ownership has been associated with lowering blood triglyceride levels in the human body. This helps to increase activity and hopefully socialization.
Choosing a dog as a pet may help to encourage physical activities. It may even inspire the patient to play a bit or go for a walk, thus creating a sense of significance.
People with dementia are susceptible to loneliness and depression. Having a pet around will help break up the solitude that the forgetfulness creates.
Some pets even seem to be sensitive to their owners needs and most of them enjoy attention. They don’t get upset and walk away when hearing the same story over and over or hearing constant chatter that makes absolutely no sense. Perhaps they’re better listeners or, at the very least, are not so judgmental.
The ideal pet is one that is calm and gentle, not hyperactive or loud. Select a new pet with great care. If your loved one has always been afraid of dogs, then obviously a dog is probably not the answer. Try an aquarium full of fish, a hamster, rabbit or even a bird; any pet that gives them a feeling of being needed.
Be watchful. You still have to observe the situation constantly. Innocently, they may overfeed the pet or attempt to walk the dog at inappropriate times, such as late at night. These common occurrences just might leave you facing a spell of anxiety of your own.
If you find a pet that decreases a patient’s anxiety and leaves him or her feeling calm, you’ve just accomplished an ample part of your goal.
Like any other type of intervention, this might not work for everyone. But I believe it’s worth a try. If you have a friend or neighbor that owns a pet, ask them to bring their four-legged friend over for a visit. The results may indeed surprise you.