Special Nursing Home Visitors-Animal Assisted Therapy
We have just got a dog. He is a two year old retired white and blue greyhound. He is very friendly! When I worked in nursing homes one of the few outside visitors that nearly always evoked smiles even in people with the most severe Alzheimer's, were children and dogs. Faces would light up and canine and child visitors would be able to cheer and stimulate conversation in a way that was often spontaneous and natural.
Provided children are given some information about Alzheimer's disease and what to expect they are very acccepting. They can find out why people act in different ways when they are ill with certain brain disorders in a way that they can understand.
It helps children if their time with the patients is time limited and they are given a task to do with the patient. For instance, they can read them a poem, or play a short piece of tranquil music on their instrument such as a recorder, violin or guitar.
An adult can be with each child to help with communication and stimulate further conversation or ask about their memories. Both the child and the patient can get a lot from the experience.
Dogs work well in nursing homes. Stroking the animal and maybe even help to walk the dog, can evoke happiness and memories for people with dementia and other types of brain injury. Most children and adults are naturally attracted to gentle dogs and most of us enjoy their company. They do not care what we look like, that we may not be able to hold a necessarily conventional conversation.
Dogs offer unconditional love and in nursing homes where loneliness is a common problem animal assisted therapy (AAT) has been shown to reverse that to some degree. Dogs and AAT has also be shown to help decrease agitation and increase social interaction in nursing home environments.
You have to assess each patient before any of them take part in AAT. It will not, of course, work for everyone. Talk to the patient, find out from relatives how they were around animals before. Graded introductions to suitably trained dogs of different sizes will be required but when it works it is magical to see.
My dog makes me happy too.
Richards N.E. PhD. 2003 Effects of animal assisted therapy therapy on agitated behaviors and social interactions of older adults with dementia. University of Southern Maine. American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease
Nordgren N., Engstrom G. 2012. Effects of Animal Assisted Therapy on Behavior: A case report. American Journal Alzheimer's and Other Dementias.