Image of the sitting old woman with dog

Unconditional love that often goes unseen and without words is a commitment made by a pet to its owner. It’s more than enjoyment; it’s an offering of a selfless healing presence.

Whether a cat, dog or bird, an animal devotes true companionship, providing a sense of ease and sheer bliss through difficult times.

And, for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease, the health benefits of owning a pet brings about positive relief.

“I’ve witnessed it firsthand, as well as stories from caregivers about how a pet provides this individual with the great amount of companionship … and absolute joy and fun,” said Susan Howland, program director of the California Southland Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Howland, a pet lover and owner of a Great Dane/Lab mix named Callie, understands the advantages of owning a pet and the calming effect they can have on a person struggling with the disease.

The program director has been associated with the nonprofit organization for over 20 years.

Howland encourages patients who are already pet owners living with Alzheimer’s to continue the journey with their pet. The symptoms of the disease develop slowly and get worse over time, according to the Alzheimer’s Association – a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.

“Families also report that having a pet in the home … can improve their loved one’s mood and sometimes even offer a calming effect, if the individual is anxious or is having some agitation or just can’t really settle down due to the Alzheimer’s disease impacting the brain,” said Howland.

Alzheimer’s is largely based on three stages:

• Mild (early stage) – Some problems with short term memory.

• Moderate (middle stage) – Impairments are more obvious, prompted to remember activities and tasks, may wander and get lost.

• Severe (late stage) – Increasing difficulty communicating, lose awareness of recent experiences and changes in physical abilities, may need a caregiver.

“Pets can benefit anybody at any stage of the disease and I also think that they bring a positive outcome to the caregiver as well, even someone in late stage, who relies more on tactile stimulation … just the touch of a pet could be a very positive experience for them,” explained Howland.

Whether a chirp, meow or howl, the devoted, forgiving nature of a pet produces a loyalty that could never be second-guessed. 

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