Dogs and Dementia: How Canine Companions Are Helping Seniors With Sundowners Syndrome

Happy Senior Man And His Dog

There has been a great deal of research on the way in which pets, particularly dogs can impact the lives of seniors today. Pets can help prevent loneliness, encourage seniors to get exercise and even help seniors fight off depression. However, there is one very specific way in which dogs are helping seniors who battle dementia and mores specifically Sundowners Syndrome.

When seniors have a canine companion in their lives they are able to have constant love, support and companionship from their pets. This can really go a long way in helping seniors feel loved and appreciated as they deal with the devastating effects of dementia. Since dogs need to be on a specific schedule with eating, exercising and going to the bathroom, many seniors with dementia also find that the constant mental stimulation that pets provide can really go a long way in improving their dementia symptoms.

Many studies have found that routines and responsibilities can keep the mind sharp and keep dementia patients focused. It can also help them remember more of their own daily routine, when they have the constant reminder of an animal to keep their day structured. This type of structure and the need for care can also provide seniors with the mental stimulation that they need in order to keep their brains sharp and functioning. While stimulation such as this won’t cure dementia or prevent it from worsening, it can slow down the progression of the disease significantly.

The non-verbal communication that dogs provide can also really help those that experience Sundowners Syndrome. Sundowning occurs when seniors with dementia get confused or agitated at night, so much so that they can enter a state of complete confusion and even do harm to themselves. These episodes can also make it very difficult for seniors with dementia to sleep. The structured schedule that dogs provide can help many dementia patients with Sundowners Syndrome, as can the tactile stimulation of interacting with pets.

Many times, the non-verbal communication and acceptance that dogs offer can soothe those with Sundowners Syndrome, especially when they are struggling to communicate verbally about their own agitations. One of the biggest challenges that Alzheimer’s and dementia patients tend to have has to do with acceptance and understanding. The presence of non-judgmental support systems such as dogs can provide dementia patients with that support that they seek. Some individuals are simply comforted by the presence of an animal when they become agitated, while others find the art of petting an animal or walking a calm dog can provide them with a soothing activity that can calm their nerves and help them refocus their energy in a more positive way.

Pet therapy has long been a common practice for seniors as well as children, the seriously ill, mentally disabled and physically challenged individuals. However, for those seniors who are particularly struggling with dementia and Sundowners, the presence of a furry friend may help them have the support and the structure they need to get through these difficult spells.

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