How Therapy Dogs Can Help Dementia Patients

The Heritage of Green Hills | senior resident sitting with a dementia therapy dog at The Heritage of Green Hills

Furry Therapists Help Dementia Patients Enjoy More Peaceful Days
Since prehistoric humans first domesticated wolves, dogs have been man’s best friend and trusted companion. Dogs were so integral to our early civilizations that they were trained to assist people with special needs. Evidence of this unique relationship was discovered amid the ruins of Herculaneum, an ancient Roman city in a first-century A.D. fresco of a blind man being led by a guide dog. Today, with an estimated 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, more and more memory care communities, including Green Hills Manor Health Care Center at The Heritage of Green Hills, are turning to therapy dogs for their Alzheimer’s patients.

The Benefits of Dog Therapy for Seniors

Dogs don’t care if a senior tells the same stories over and over. And because being touched and touching others is important for everyone’s mental health, petting, hugging and caring for a dog can help provide some of that missed physical contact.

Some of the the common symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia that therapy dogs can help with include:

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Nervousness
  • Depression

Specific benefits include:

  • Health benefits: Petting an animal raises the level of “feel-good” hormones — serotonin and oxytocin — in our brain increasing feelings of pleasure, relaxation and calm. At the same time, levels of stress-causing hormones go down, reducing blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and the risk of depression and heart disease.
  • Unconditional love: Pets don’t care who we are, what we look like or how old we are. Plus, dogs are born listeners. And for residents who may be in the later stages of Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia and who are having extreme memory difficulties, therapy dogs can be an excellent source of comfort.
  • Connection: Some seniors have smiled, spoken or taken a genuine interest in what’s happening around them for the first time in years upon meeting or getting to know a therapy dog.
  • Happy memories: A therapy dog can invoke familiar memories to a resident who may feel that their world is slowly changing into something unrecognizable. Many memory care residents with dementia long for the comfort of places, things and people they once knew, and therapy dogs can help remind them of the pets they once had.

The Therapy Dogs of Green Hills Manor
At Green Hills Manor, several therapy pets visit our memory care residents on specific days. We’d like to introduce you to a couple of them:
Betty: According to her human, Dave Lis, Betty has been diagnosed with diabetes, is pretty much blind from cataracts and has arthritis. But whenever she visits, Betty inspires big smiles and sparks tenderness and stories from residents. Especially since a lot them can sympathize with her medical conditions. Betty has a remarkably calm disposition and is very well mannered. When Betty first started visiting Green Hills Manor, she was a hit, and she and Dave have been enjoying the experience ever since.

Grappa, a dementia therapy dog, sitting with a senior manGrappa: Grappa is an Lagotto Romagnolo — a breed used in Italy to hunt for truffles and is named after an Italian word for brandy. According to her human, Barry Grimm, Grappa loves people and will stay and wag her tail all day as long as someone keeps petting her. The ladies who really love Grappa will sit on each end of the couch leaving room for her in the middle so they can love and pet on her. She really brightens everyone’s day. According to Barry, “When Grappa goes in, the residents often say to me: You don’t know how much we look forward to seeing this dog.”

If you have questions about our therapy dogs or want to learn more about how our memory care community can help your loved one, call Green Hills Manor at 484-268-2201.

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