With so many forms of dementia—it is increasingly difficult for caregivers to provide quality of life as their loved ones enter the final stages of brain change. Strategies that once worked, no longer do. Research shows a consensus on what caregivers’ value for their loved one at end-of-life:
- family involvement
- living in the present
- pragmatic expectations
- autonomy and individuality1
Yet family involvement often diminishes as the loved one declines; expectations are often not realistic, and autonomy limited due to physical and cognitive changes.
Several studies found that individuals in later stage dementia were positively affected by animal-assisted interventions.2 In a study comparing nursing home residents who received a 30-minute session twice a week with a companion-trained dog had significantly lower depression scores than the control group. The dog group showed a significant increase on quality of life ratings also.
Companion pets have been shown to not only impact the individual with dementia’s mental health but also physical health.3 Studies showed companion pets were associated with marked increases in physical activity and improvements in blood pressure and heart rate variability.
If orchestrating a trained dog visit or having a companion pet is not feasible, consider a robotic pet. A meta-analysis of numerous studies showed use of a robotic pet with people with dementia was associated with a significant decline in behaviors and psychological symptoms of dementia including depression.4 Robotic pets are available on-line with a price range manageable for most budgets.
As your loved one moves into the final stage of brain decline, comfort can come in the form of a pet to touch and cuddle; often providing the whole family with a sense of well-being.