THE BLOG
02/19/2015 06:44 am ET Updated Apr 20, 2015

Alzheimer's Caregivers: 10 Reasons to Take Rover to Visit Your Loved One

An article published on Essortment.com begins like this: "Supposing there were a treatment that decreases agitation, improves mood, and enhances communication for Alzheimer's patients? There is, and his name is Rover."

I had several first-hand experiences with this. The first one was when I took my little Shih Tzu puppy, Christina, to visit Ruth, one of the ladies I volunteer to visit at a local memory care facility.

Ruth laughed when she saw Christina and had the biggest smile on her face I'd seen in the three months I'd been going to visit her. Then we played a game with Christina. Ruth sat at one end of her room and I stood at the other. Ruth clapped her hands and called, "Christina." Christina went racing toward her, then dive-bombed her feet.

The instant Christina arrived Ruth flung both arms straight up in the air and shouted, "Whee!" Then I called Christina and she shot back to me. Ruth and I laughed so hard we had tears running down our cheeks. Finally, I had to leave. We hugged, as always. Ruth thanked me for bringing Christina and then said, "This is my best day since I've lived here!"

Another example I had of the benefits of pets for people with Alzheimer's occurred with Ed, my beloved Romanian life partner of 30 years. As narrated in my uplifting, award-winning book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy, I often took my other Shih Tzu, Peter, to visit Ed, who just loved Peter. In fact when I took Peter Ed typically ignored me completely.

One day Ed asked me if he could hold Peter. On all of our previous visits when I put Peter on Ed's lap, he would soon jump down and scamper over to me. But that day he just rested his little head on Ed's arm and stayed there.

Ed began slowly stroking Peter beginning at his head then slowly moving his hand down to his tail. Ed was incredibly calm. Watching them was almost like meditating. I wondered why Peter had changed his behavior. And I asked myself, "What does Peter know that I don't know?"

Just one week later Ed suddenly passed away. I felt certain that Peter had foreseen Ed's death and was forecasting it by staying on his lap for the first time ever, bringing Ed such deep tranquility.

Paula Spencer Scott, a Met Life Foundation Journalist in Aging Fellow, writes in an article on Caring.com:

"As many pet owners will attest, just being around an animal can have a soothing effect. This is the idea behind pet therapy for people with Alzheimer's disease, who are at particular risk for anxiety and depression." Scott continues, "The benefits of pet therapy include lowering anxiety and stress, encouraging communication, improving mood, and lowering blood pressure."

There are other benefits as well. Here's a list of 10 benefits, compiled from articles published on: EveryDayHealth.com, Caring.com, Essortment.com and Journals.Cambridge.org.

Ten Benefits of Pets for People With Alzheimer's:

1. Reduce anxiety
2. Reduce stress
3. Encourage communication
4. Improve mood
5. Lower blood pressure
6. Improve eating
7. Reduce aggression
8. Lower blood triglyceride levels
9. Increase activity levels
10. Provide an opportunity to play and be creative

The benefits of pets for people who have Alzheimer's are so numerous and strong that we should all consider taking a pet on our visits. (This, of course, assumes that the person likes pets.)

Do any of you routinely take a pet to visit your loved one? Or, if the person lives at home, do you have a pet? If so, what response do you get?

Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website (ComeBackEarly Today.com), has a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.