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Does having a pet help those with Alzheimer’s disease? Let’s take a look


Q. My wife is in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, her memory continues to decline and she slowly is becoming isolated. She relies on others for conversation, speaking very little and cannot be left alone. Would having a dog be a comfort to her or even lessen some of her symptoms? Many thanks. D.J.


Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia is demanding and often consuming of one’s time and energy. This disease is progressive with no agreed-upon cause or cure. Yet we have some encouragement with a newly approved drug that slows its progression but just for a period of time. The cure cannot come fast enough as an estimated 6.7 million Americans age 65 and older are reported to have this brain disease in 2023.


So, what can we do in the meantime? Having a pet seems to help. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that animal therapy can help people navigate dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association cites several studies that evaluate the impact of regular engagements with both living and robotic animals. Mood was found to improve as well as interaction with others. Engagement with the pet had a calming effect on dementia-related behaviors and also helped to increase physical activity.


Furthermore, pets can provide a feeling of unconditional love as well as a source for support and comfort. Then there is the feeling of companionship, friendship and a sense of purpose – just caring for another living entity. There’s more. It can improve self-esteem and confidence while promoting independence by playing a role in the pet’s feeding, walking and grooming.


So, the short answer is yes, having a pet such as a dog has the strong potential to have a positive influence on those with Alzheimer’s disease.


However, there are some considerations in making that decision as suggested by the UK Alzheimer’s Association.

Does the person have the capacity and judgment to decide whether he or she wants a pet?

  1. Does the person interact well with animals? If the individual didn’t care for dogs prior to dementia, it’s unlikely that will change.

  2. Give some serious thought to the type of pet. If it is a dog, consider breeds such as a pug, schnauzer, cocker spaniel, chihuahua or Boston Terrier as recommended by SuperCarers. Also, do your own investigation.

  3. Consider the amount of work and effort required to take care of a dog. Is the dog calm and does it require minimal maintenance?

  4. Beware of the risk for falls. Is the person suffering from dementia likely to trip or fall over the animal?

Here are two important caveats. Does the individual with Alzheimer’s disease have visual limitations, such as poor sight, glaucoma or other eye infirmities? If so, tripping or falling over the animal, its leash or watering bowl is a big risk.

The second pertains to the family care provider. Does that person have any limitations in vision, balance or energy that would interfere with the maintenance of the dog or place an added strain or even jeopardize existing caregiving responsibilities? Think about flea problems, trips to the veterinarian, dog walking or doggie accidents in the house.


If these two areas of risk are relevant consider a robotic dog. There are many on the market. I became acquainted with one at an age and technology conference from a company called TomBot. Their Jennie is an interactive emotional support robotic dog, designed by Jim Henson’s Creature Future shop.


The co-founder and owner Tom Stevens came to this project with 30-plus years as a high-tech executive and developed the company TomBot in response to his mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. Since she could no longer personally care for her puppy, he created Jennie as a substitute. This realistic robotic dog is covered with sensors and responds to different kinds of touches and its name. If renamed, it also will respond. It sleeps when it is dark and wakes at daylight. When I touched Jennie’s face with my hand, her fur felt real as she snuggled her face into my palm. When I looked into Jennie’s eyes, I felt she was looking back at me. There are others on the market; this is just one I have experienced.


So best wishes D.J. in supporting your wife on this journey. Wishing you and your wife continued strength and good health. And thank you for your good question.


As a friendly reminder, take a moment to be kind to yourself and others.


Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity

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