Nursing home residents have long benefited from the social stimulation of therapy dogs. Organizations such as Therapy Dogs International have been visiting senior community residents for decades and the positive impact on residents suffering from social isolation or depression has been well documented. Recently, several different studies are indicating that therapy dogs may delay the onset of some dementia symptoms.
Researchers in Europe have been documenting animal-assisted therapy (AAT) and a recent study at Charite’ University Medicine in Berlin and the Psychiatric Clinic in Basel, Switzerland has found that dementia patient interactions with therapy animals exhibit less severe symptoms of agitation and aggression. Although more research is being conducted, the early results appear promising.
Furry friends have become common fixtures in memory care communities, hospitals and other rehabilitation centers over the years as a quick cuddle is known to soothe nerves, lower blood pressure and create a general feeling of goodwill. The recent study on animal-assisted therapy offers a fresh look at therapy animals as more is understood about neuro-psychiatric symptoms and the impact of therapy animals on patients.
The movement toward introducing dogs into the care routine of a dementia patient is twofold. In Scotland, dementia dogs are highly-trained service dog where assistance in day-to-day routines such as mealtime reminders, medication reminders, and navigation is provided. Animal-assisted therapy offers emotional support to the dementia patient while offsetting episodes of agitation or aggression or other dementia-related symptoms.
The continued research and development of animal-assisted therapy and service animals is a wonderful movement toward continuing the emphasis on maintaining independence and dignity in older adults.