Alzheimer’s Disease and Palliative Pets

22 Sep

The American Psychiatric Association characterizes Alzheimer’s Disease as a progressive brain disorder that exhibits symptoms of cognitive impairment to memory, language, judgement and abstract reasoning.  On average, this life limiting disease results in a life expectancy following diagnosis of approximately seven years and is identified as the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.  In recent years medical professionals have seen a growing interest in the therapeutic effects of animal assisted therapy and activities.

A study published in “Companion Animals in Human Health (see References section)” by Kathryn Batson et al titled “The Effect of a Therapy Dog on Socialization and Physiological Indicators of Stress in Persons Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease” concluded that pets can serve as a useful intervention for increasing socialization in Alzheimer’s sufferers.  These researchers looked at the impact of a trained therapy dog, in this case a miniature schnauzer, on a variety of social interaction variables such as smiling, tactile contact, verbal praise, physical engagement as well as physiological factors such as heart rate and blood pressure.

The presence of the therapy dog enhanced nonverbal communication as shown by increases in looks, smiles, tactile contact and physical warmth.  The findings of the study support the advantages of short-term visits on the mental state and quality of life of person’s suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.  The results fit with similar research on the effects of pets on socialization of the elderly and suggest that the greater alertness of the research subjects suffering from profound impairment may activate a more basic form of communication and socialization than verbal interaction.

The study concludes that given the simplicity and ease with which pet interactions can be offered, such interventions can and should be woven into the fabric of care for Alzheimer’s patients.

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