Pets bringing companionship to people affected by dementia

Pets As Therapy is working with Alzheimer’s Society to offer more people with dementia the companionship of a pet when they could benefit the most. 

Pets As Therapy (PAT) is a national charity that enriches people’s health and wellbeing with visits from its volunteers and their pets. 

PAT volunteers visit hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, day centres, schools and other settings across the UK.

These visits bring comfort and companionship to people who may feel isolated or lonely. 

Maintaining a relationship with a pet is something the charity believes everyone should be able to do, including people living in residential care.

Sue and Boo visit school children (left) and on the right, Boo sits wearing his yellow Pets As Therapy bandana

Huge benefit 

‘We serve around 4,000 venues at the moment, with another 2,500 on our waiting list,’ says Clare Davis, the charity’s CEO. 

There has been a lot of talk about mental health issues and more people are becoming aware of how just interacting with an animal can be of huge benefit.

People with dementia are among those who may benefit from a PAT visit. 

Some people may be unable to keep pets even if they’ve done so throughout their life.

A PAT dog can make a real difference to them, especially when spending time in hospital or a care home. 

Clare says, ‘We go into lots of settings where people who have dementia are living. 

‘We regularly hear about the positive impact that these visits have. 

Family members and carers tell us that a person has opened up, interacted or had a conversation for the first time in weeks or months during a PAT visit. 

‘Relatives and care staff are often so excited about these interactions – I think that’s really powerful.’

Pets As Therapy and Alzheimer’s Society are seeing how we can work together to provide companionship at key points in people’s dementia care. 

Clare says, ‘We want to try and work out when our PAT visits and services could have the most impact for people affected by dementia. 

‘That could be through PAT visits, community walks or welcoming people with dementia as volunteers.’

Feeling useful 

Sue Beeson, 77, in Worcestershire, says volunteering for PAT with her dog Boo makes her feel useful.

It’s given her a positive outlook following her Alzheimer’s diagnosis earlier this year. 

‘The time following my diagnosis was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster to start with,’ says Sue.

My involvement with PAT and Alzheimer’s Society has made my life exciting and positive again.

Sue and Boo visit St Catherine’s Church of England Primary School in Kidderminster three times a week. 

This helps support the wellbeing of both children and staff. 

Sue also likes to play the harp and brings the instrument along with her, which can be very soothing for the pupils. 

‘Just before my diagnosis, I had taken a small harp and my dog to visit a local primary school as part of their work on wellbeing,’ Sue says.

‘Our visit was such a success that, after some discussion and deliberation, we agreed to do it regularly. 

The children love having a cuddle with Boo if they’re feeling upset or anxious. Boo turns tears to smiles within minutes (seconds sometimes)!

Positive experience 

PAT was very welcoming, which helped Sue feel prepared and at ease when volunteering at the school. 

‘Becoming a PAT dog and handler team was such a positive experience for both Boo and me,’ she says.

‘From my first enquiry everyone at PAT was helpful and supportive, as they continue to be. 

Being a PAT dog handler in a primary school is not only a privilege, but has also helped me as far as my dementia is concerned. 

‘I have a realistic idea of what “Big A” (my pet name for my dementia) will do to me in the long term, as both my parents had it. 

‘Since my diagnosis, I have been determined to meet it head on and in as positive a way as I can.’

Starting conversations 

Volunteering has helped to maintain Sue’s confidence and has helped her to have open conversations about dementia with others. 

‘PAT is not only supporting the wellbeing of those in the school, but it’s also helping me enormously,’ she says.

Instead of feeling despondent, I feel useful.

Clare says, ‘There are so many reasons why individuals should consider volunteering – including people with dementia.’

How you can help

Your donations help us to provide vital support through our partnerships with other organisations such as Pets as Therapy.

Donate today

Dementia together magazine

Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
Subscribe now