My active father has Alzheimer’s Disease. When he retired, Dad would bike 50 miles per day and return to work on projects around the house.He found the strength in his arms weakening and added 200 pushups and 200 sit-ups per day. Until a few years ago. An unfortunate run in with a car coupled with an ancient knee injury diminished his activity. So he turned to walking. My mother gave him a phone, in case he was lost and Dad would walk out the door with his curly willow cane for laps around the community. All of this activity helped keep his diabetes and cognitive issues under control. Mostly the diabetes.
My mother started talking about a dog for Dad and I will admit my brothers and I were skeptical. She had learned through an Alzheimer Support Group the benefits of pet ownership. We, the siblings, were unfortunately focusing on the negative aspects. Mom persisted and two years ago my youngest brother, and potential owner of the new pet, took our parents to a shelter. They walked around and found a medium size, 5 year old greyhound mix who reminded my father of a former family pet that is thought of with warm, fuzzy and humorous memories: Hershel.
Hershel lived on the back porch, in our back yard and the family room. He was never allowed on the furniture and would at times push my father’s temper to the limit. But he saved my little brother from drowning in a frozen, shallow creek and alerted the family to a Christmas Eve fire. At first Dad needed to warm to Sammy. Fortunately Sammy was patient and attentive. She began following him around their condo, lying at his feet when he watched TV and napped. Dad did and still does need to be reminded to walk and feed Sammy. She travels well and is a good companion for both my parents. They take long walks around the community and over time Sammy has crept up onto the sofa for naps with Dad who never gets upset with her.
My parents feel loved and needed. The unconditional love that Sammy provides helps with depression, agitation and anxiety. Many studies show that pet ownership lowers blood pressure and heart rates. Many Alzheimer’s and dementia units are using pet therapy for these reasons. Having a pet keeps my father and others more active and engaged. But, if you are thinking of pet ownership, please do your research for the right pet while considering the time and cost involved.
You too may benefit from a Hershel or a Sammy.
- Kimberley Malone, Agency Manager