The first reported use of therapy animals dates back to the 1800s when Florence Nightingale observed that small animals helped ease distress among patients in residential health settings. Pet Therapy for Demenia sufferers has become much more recognised in the last decade or so. Recent research with Residents of Nursing Homes and other Long Term Residental Care facilities in Ireland and abroad has shown that interaction with a therapy dog increased a person’s level of human interaction and also reduced agitation. Over time the resident got to know the dog and look forward to its visit.
Many pet owners have to leave their pets behind when they move to a Nursing Home, and regular visits by Therapy pets can help fill this gap.
In Ireland there are several organisations that arrange Pet Therapy for Dementia sufferers (visits by pets and their owners to Nursing Homes), the main ones being Irish Therapy Dogs (website link here: Irish Therapy Dogs) and Peata (website link here: Peata). Both organisations maintain a database of volunteer pet owners who are willing to visit Nursing Homes and other Long Term Residential Care unit with their pets.
If you are arranging for Pet Therapy for a loved one in a Nursing Home, keep in mind the following:
- Keep in mind the pet’s temperament and energy level. Too much jumping and/or excessive barking may do more harm than good.
- Consider the time of day. Morning or early afternoon visits are normally better times for people with Dementia
- Keep the visits short. Always stay tuned in to your loved one’s behaviour, as they can quickly reach a point of overstimulation.
- Dementia suffers can be unpredictable when it comes to pets. Some days your loved one won’t be able to get enough of the pet, other days they may be less welcoming or even completely resistant.