La terapia con mascotas (también llamada terapia asistida con animales) para personas con Alzheimer y otros tipos de demencia ha recibido una mayor atención en los últimos años. Una de las razones es el énfasis en hacer que las instalaciones, tales como hogares de ancianos y centros de vida asistida, sean más hogareñas.
El Dr. William Thomas propuso una teoría en ese sentido hace varios años que hizo que otros reconsideraran cómo se diseñaron los hogares de ancianos. Dijo que los residentes en instalaciones a menudo sufrían de sentirse aburridos, solos e indefensos. También dijo que traer niños , plantas y animales eran algunas de las formas de combatir esos problemas. Estas ideas lo llevaron a desarrollar lo que denominó la “Alternativa del Edén”, una forma de revitalizar la vida del hogar de ancianos al empoderar al personal y enfatizar la presencia de plantas, animales y niños.
This movement, along with others, increased the presence of animals in nursing homes. But, do they help? Even though not everyone is a lover of animals, the answer in one word is: Yes. Overwhelmingly, research supports the benefits of animals with people who have dementia.
Benefits of Pet Therapy
There have been hundreds of research articles published on the benefits of pet therapy for people with dementia. Here are a few of those benefits:
Multiple studies have cited benefits such as improved mood and more social interaction — notable benefits since people with dementia are at risk for developing depression, which can further compromise their functioning and quality of life.
One such study evaluated animal-assisted therapy at an adult day care center for older adults with dementia. The results indicated that involving the people in activities with dogs decreased their feelings of anxiety and sadness and increased physical activity and positive emotions.
In a study published in 2008, psychologists observed a calming effect following pet therapy in a small sample of nursing home residents. Other studies have shown that animal-assisted therapy yields significantly lower blood pressure levels.
Decreased Behavioral Problems
Another study measured the effects of a resident dog, as opposed to a visiting dog, in a nursing home. The researchers found that after the addition of the dog to the Alzheimer’s unit, the residents’ challenging behaviors significantly decreased during the day.
Other research that agitation and aggression were significantly reduced in people with Alzheimer’s disease who were exposed to pet therapy.
One study placed aquariums in a facility and found that residents’ food intake and weight increased. This decreased the need for nutritional supplements, which lowered costs for the facility.
Increased Social Interaction
Other research found that animal-assisted therapy was correlated with an increase in social interaction with others in those with dementia.
Increased Physical Activity
Pet therapy has also been associated with increased physical activity. There are many benefits of physical activity in dementia.
Types of Pet Therapy
Animal-assisted therapy runs the gamut and can include cats, bird aviaries, trained dogs and fish aquariums. Some nursing homes have animals that live at the facility, while others have people who bring animals in to visit regularly. Some communities also have programs where they’ll bring in animals from the local zoo and include an educational component.
Although most of the research on pet therapy has been conducted in facilities, it can also be used if someone with dementia is living at home. The presence of a dog or cat at home, for example, can provide some of the same benefits as noted above.
Finally, remember that animals used for pet therapy should be up-to-date on their shots, well-trained, and monitored to ensure everyone’s safety, as well as to minimize the exposure for people who have allergies or simply don’t care to interact with them.