Spreading the Love: Dementia Patients Find Comfort in Pets and Family Visits

Renee Eder, our public relations director, has a history of dementia in her family, including her paternal grandmother, uncles, and aunts, and she knows about the love and compassion those with the disease need. During the holidays this past year, Renee and her daughter, Emma, led Emma’s second grade class in making gingerbread houses, and delivered them to a local senior home (where one of the moms of a student is a nurse). At the home they went to, most of the residents were in the early stages of dementia, and they were quite pleased with Emma and her friend Samantha, who brought cheer to their residence.

Emma, a perceptive eight-year-old, noticed several of the seniors petting a service dog, and was amazed at how calm and content they were. It became clear to Renee, her daughter, and her son, Max, what their next steps should be, and they involve a senior silver-haired poodle, named Penny. Penny, the Eder’s dog, looks like a poodle version of Sophia Petrillo from Golden Girls, and with her sweet, smart, calm, and loving demeanor, she is a perfect fit as a comfort dog. Penny, who is now an official comfort dog sporting a new “service dog” vest, now visits with the seniors at the home once a month.

Visiting with Penny

Renee and her children brought Penny to the senior home this past weekend. They were all dressed up for Valentine’s Day, and their hope was to spread love to residents. A violinist was there, so most of the residents were in the lobby enjoying the music. Renee and her children were able to visit with some of the residents who were listening to the music and others who were in their rooms. For most, petting the dog was soothing, and they enjoyed the company. A few residents had family members visiting. They may have dementia and forget a lot of things, but Renee, Emma, and Max could tell they were happy to have visitors, and a pet to snuggle with.

Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s Still Need to Feel Loved and Connected

According to research carried out by Alzheimer’s Society, loved ones with Alzheimer’s benefit from family and friends visiting, because Alzheimer’s sufferers still have an “emotional memory.” In other words, when it comes to visiting loved ones with Alzheimer’s, the positive emotion from an encouraging and supportive visit can endure much longer than the specific memory of that visit.

As part of their research, the Alzheimer’s society polled members of the public who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s. The findings revealed that 42% ‘mistakenly’ felt that once a loved one stopped remembering them ‘they don’t benefit a lot from spending time with them’. Some 68% responded they would still keep up visits, but the Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘Despite these good intentions, the lack of awareness of how important emotional memory is may mean that in their busy lives, people don’t always follow up on their intentions and over half of those living with Alzheimer’s are left feeling isolated.’

Alzheimer’s Society chief executive Jeremy Hughes said: “It’s so important for people with Alzheimer’s to feel connected throughout the year. Spending time with loved ones and taking part in meaningful activities can have a powerful and positive impact, even if they don’t remember the event itself. We’re urging people to get in touch with us and find out how we can help you stay connected.”

When you visit a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you may have impacted that person’s whole day by changing her feelings and behavior. Although he or she might not be able to recall that you visited him or her, the feelings you created in your loved one can change how he or she interacts with others and improve his or her mood.

So, next time you think it doesn’t matter, think again. The benefit of your visit might last long after you’ve gone.

Robotic Pets for Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s

As you can tell from Renee’s experience with Penny, those with Alzheimer’s enjoy visiting with family members and with pets. What if your loved one with dementia lived in a senior facility that doesn’t allow pets, or if her or she was allergic? Could he or she still get the same benefit without petting a real dog or cat? The answer is yes!

At the Hebrew Home in Riverdale, NY, robotic pets were brought in to interact with Alzheimer’s patients. The pets are so realistic that you’ll think you’re looking at a real, live affectionate kitty — but they’re actually robots. The kitty purrs, blinks, rubs its face, and even rolls over — but that’s not the most remarkable part.

According to staff, the effect the robots can have on patients is astonishing. “It makes me happy,” 97-year-old Justina Lacanfora said. “I’m very happy. See, he talks to me. That was a long conversation.” Nancy Traynelis is Justina’s daughter. She’s not sure whether her mother knows the cat is real or not but she does know that it has a calming effect on her. These animals are a wonderful way to use a non-pharmaceutical approach, not using medicine to offer comfort and a sense of calm,” Mary Farkas from the Hebrew Home said.

Research on whether the benefits of robotic therapy pets are lasting is inconclusive, but in six months, Ms. Farkas said, she had seen many residents form close bonds with their animatronic friends. “For a lot of our residents, it’s a chance to be a caregiver, and to be in an active, empowered role again,” she said. “A lot of times this disease causes passivity, and we’re always looking for ways to combat that.”

The robotic cats, called Joy for All Companion Pets, are made by Hasbro. They hit the market last year and cost $99 — considerably less than previous generations of robotic therapy animals, which have been around since the dawn of the millennium. “No litter box. Just love,” the slogan on the Hasbro website says. The cats come in three models: orange tabby, creamy white, and silver with white mitts.

Medicaid Asset Protection for Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s

Persons with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from Alzheimer’s and their loved ones. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. If you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia, please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Fairfax Alzheimer’s Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Alzheimer’s Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville Alzheimer’s Planning: 301-519-8041
DC Alzheimer’s Planning: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.