Puddles, the Almost Therapy Dog

 Puddles  Cat

Article: HOW ANIMAL THERAPY HELPS DEMENTIA PATIENTS

Therapy dogs are pretty common for many different illnesses and difficult situations. Simon recently found the article above about how therapy dogs can help with dementia and it resonated with him. This article focused on how therapy dogs or cats can particularly bring improvements in reducing agitation, improving physical activity, improving eating, and providing pleasure to dementia patients.

The Garcia family has Puddles – a seven year old English Springer Spaniel. She’s a great dog – very loving, well trained, and fairly calm now that she’s getting older. Puddles has been with the family her whole life including when Jorge was in earlier stages of the disease. What’s great is that Jorge still seems to recognize her when she’s around even though she doesn’t currently live with him. But when she’s around it seems to provide a sense of familiarity.

Having Puddles around often seems to give him a sense of responsibility as well. He enjoys taking care of something and the sense of independence. It’s a nice change to him feeling like he’s the one being taken care of. He’ll walk her on the lease and throw or kick a ball for her. He’ll often sit on the couch and pet her for a while too. It seems to help him stay calm and comfortable even in unfamiliar situations. So we’ll keep bringing Puddles around and hopefully she’ll keep adding pleasure to his life.

A Lesson from Nelly – I am #1

No. 1 Pin Acoustic Guitar

ARTICLE: Overcoming the Stigma of Dementia

Today I read the interesting article above that hits on several points that we’ve definitely experienced as well as pointing out a different way of thinking about things. The unique perspective in this article notes that man dementia patients feel let down by their communities, feel misunderstood, scared, and have a lowered sense of self-esteem due to how society stereotypes people with the disease. Their opinions and conversations are “discounted and dismissed.” I know this happens with Jorge and it’s hard when there is mental damage. The article also emphasizes other things we’ve seen with Jorge – the need to accomplish something and performing daily activities. The author highlights that all people feel better about themselves when they have a sense of their own worth and importance and that everyone feels the need to accomplish or do something valuable. So we need to help find ways for Jorge to achieve this each day.

The other thing that was really interesting about this article is it talked about seeing caregiving help. That’s a hard topic because like the author iterates no one wants to abandon their loved ones. She talks about how it’s better to setup care giving and look for adult day cares early on in the diagnosis because change is more readily accepted then. She also recognizes like in most situations – like ours – the caregiving search doesn’t happen until the the middle stages when caregiving becomes more difficult. She offers comfort though. Whenever adjustments happen, whether introducing a new caregiver or a new environment, the key is to help your family member or friend connect with the new situation so they begin to associate feelings of safety, happiness, and comfort with it. They may not remember the person or place or people’s names, but the feelings are being stored in their brain and they will recognize “safety and companionship and they respond to that.” She also mentions how singing and music help with this process. We know Jorge loves music and all the articles I read emphasize this. Music and songs (what she calls rhythmic responses) need less mental processing and music is usually a positive trigger for people. The Garcia family is very musically talented and is always singing and playing instruments so I think that’s why music is a very strong positive stimuli for Jorge.

The final item that I found interesting is this – “thanks to the amygdala, that adjustment period is often shorter than most people expect.” I think this is encouraging. It may take Jorge a little while to adapt to new situations and we’re scared because we don’t want a bad reaction and it’s hard to explain his situation to society, but because he is storing positive feelings we just need to focus on helping recreate those feelings until he becomes comfortable. We saw this with Jorge and how quickly a new caregiver has helped and become his friend.

So we’re just going to keep playing music!