Patients suffering emotional and communication difficulties are more likely to have dementia; we often find them frustrated and angry. Alzheimer's disease is a state of mental and economic disturbance for both patients and their attendants. Therefore, in the past few years, animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has become a popular treatment focusing on dog care therapy. Studies have shown that dogs could be a better companion for dementia patients, specifically those who have Alzheimer's disease.
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) can be defined as a natural recovery through strong bonding between patients and their pets. The most suitable animals for animal therapy are fish, cats, dogs, and horses. This targets a person's physical, emotional and cognitive functions, thus improving a person's well-being. According to experts, when patients cuddle their animals and feel the emotional bond, their body releases hormones such as oxytocin, prolactin, and dopamine.
A study was conducted in a small nursing home in 2008, according to which psychologists have found that animal therapy helps in releasing stress and fatigue in many patients. Other studies have shown that animal therapy can decrease blood pressure levels and lower the chances of heart diseases.
Another study showed the effects of an inhabitant dog by adding the dog to the nursing home to treat people with dementia, resulting in positive behavioral changes significantly rising during a day. Patients who pet the animal become more reluctant in social behaviors like touching and smiling — this, in turn, helps them become more conscious about their actions towards others.
The most common symptom in patients with dementia is the loss of appetite. But, therapy pets have shown remarkable improvement in patients' nutritional intake. Doctors also found that animal-assisted therapy can increase food intake and weight in patients. In 2002, researchers conducted a study at Purdue University. Fish aquariums were used with Alzheimer's disease patients. It proved that Nutritional intake increased during the whole procedure. The patients gained more weight and shorter use of nutritional supplements. Recent research suggests that nutritional supplementation is now necessary for patients with dementia to receive proper nutrition.
Patients suffering from dementia experience depression and loneliness; they can often feel characterized by their condition and isolate themselves due to their frustrations. This can significantly affect their quality of life, making them feel sad, lonely, and sometimes angry. Animals offer unconditional love and attention. They develop a sense of hope for those who may feel helpless and alone because of their condition. Animals are beneficial for getting patients to work on their social skills without having a full-blown conversation that may feel overwhelming.
As dementia develops, a patient's muscle tone may decrease due to brain volume changes and function changes. But, when you are taking care of someone with this condition, it's essential to make them physically better. Introducing them to an animal or a pet as a gift will get them on their feet; they will develop a bond with it and move along with some physical activities. Taking a dog for a morning walk of patting the cat, or playing fetch with their pet will increase their strength and encourage them to be active.
As many as the benefits, animal therapies also have some risks, and the most significant risk involve safety and sanitation. Some people could be allergic to animals, so that they may have reverse reactions during the therapy. Other than that, chances of injury are also there for the animals and humans as well. In some cases, people get so much attached to the service animals that they get reluctant to leave them after sessions, which results from reverse.