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Engaging Loved Ones With Memory Loss: The Pet Connection

It’s often surprising the specific details that individuals living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can recall from childhood, especially with respect to beloved childhood pets. This is most likely the result of connecting back to a time and place when they felt safe and more emotionally stable. 

Memories with strong positive emotional influences, such as with a family pet, may be retained more strongly than others. Here are some strategies for using this pet connection to create better days and more meaningful visits.

Let Go of the Loss

It’s normal to experience a sense of loss when a loved one stops remembering who you are. Instead of focusing on what they’re forgetting, pay attention to what they are remembering. If you don’t know already, ask whether they had pets and encourage them to share stories. Make notes of what they tell you – not to correct them later if their story changes, but rather to remind yourself so you can ask more questions in the future. You never know what you can learn when you join them in their reality.

Connect Through Pictures

Photographs from their childhood, especially those of and with their pets, may spark other memories from that time. If you can’t find pictures of their actual pet, images of similar animals may be just as useful as conversation starters. Just be sure to resist the urge to push for answers or correct them if the details don’t seem quite right. Remember that the goal is building connections, even if for a moment at a time. 

Pet Therapy

Memory care communities strive to create a homelike environment, and nothing says home quite like the family pet. Depending on where your loved one is living, check with the community team members about bringing your own pet for a visit. A pet visitation schedule may already be in place since communities often schedule pet therapy as a form of engagement.

Petting a cat or taking a dog for a walk can be soothing and may even provide health benefits. Animals have been shown to produce calming effects for some senior living residents, such as lowering blood pressure or decreasing agitation. Pet therapy may also lead to increased social interaction and physical activity. Interacting with an animal regularly can facilitate connection during your visits.

Willow River is Here to Help

If you are ready to speak to a professional, Willow River can help answer your questions and provide the resources you’re looking for. Call Willow River Senior Living at 888-546-1886 to start the conversation today.