Care staff at a Bridgwater nursing home are asking local pet-owners to consider getting their dog or cat certified as a therapy animal, and sharing their attentions with local people living with dementia.
Activities co-ordinator Lisa Priddice who works at Avalon Nursing Home, a specialist dementia care home run by Camelot Care, said: “Petting or playing with an animal can provide a real therapeutic boost for the people we support because it increases certain hormone levels.
“It’s lovely to see how happy it makes our residents when they are able to pet an animal, and research says the benefits it brings them include an improved sense of well-being on many levels.”
Experts have shown that spending time with animals can genuinely benefit people’s physical health: those who pet or play with a dog or cat, even for just five minutes, can benefit from lowered blood pressure and improved cardiovascular health.
It is also known that enjoying a pet’s company promotes a feeling of relaxation, which in turn can help to relieve symptoms of anxiety and reduce physical issues such as pain.
Lisa Priddice said: “We have two resident guinea pigs at Avalon – we got them last autumn. The residents were amused by the white spot on the head of the otherwise brown guinea pig and decided she should be called Dot. The other one, Ethel, is mostly white with splodges of black and sports a very cool Mohican.
“Not only do our residents love to hold and stroke the animals, helping with their maintenance and upkeep is also very beneficial because such jobs adds purpose and structure to their day.
“At the moment, because the weather’s so cold, the guinea pig hutch is located in our ‘quiet’ lounge, but they also have an enclosed run in the garden and will probably spend more time out there with residents when the weather is warmer.
“We are going to be extending our animal family soon, and are hoping to get an aquarium, a rabbit, some birds and possibly even some gerbils.”
Avalon residents also enjoy regular visits from Bentley, an 11-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier, and his owner Shelley Stentaford.
Shelley, who also regularly takes Bentley to the Alzheimer’s café in Bridgwater’s Victoria Park, says: “Bentley has the perfect temperament. To become a pat dog every dog or cat has to have a temperament assessment, and Bentley is a very calm dog. He loves all the attention he gets from these mainly elderly dog-lovers.
“Purebred staffies are nicknamed The Nanny Dog and are reliably gentle. In fact this breed is recommended for families with young children by many of the welfare and re-homing organisations including the Kennel Club, because they’re such loving dogs.”