Hospice patients often struggle with sadness, fear, anger, and other difficult emotions. As they begin experiencing the end of their lives, it’s natural to also begin feeling a range of complex and sometimes frustrating mix. In addition to helping hospice patients manage pain, complete everyday tasks, and receive medical treatment, hospice workers can also help them cope with their feelings. One unlikely hospice worker can be especially helpful in this service: dogs. Animal assisted therapy, often used to help ease stress and provide other mental health benefits, can be a valuable addition to a hospice care patient’s regular treatments.
Types of Hospice Care Dogs
While many types of animals can be trained to be therapy animals, dogs are the most common choice. They typically fall into two categories: therapy dogs, and visiting dogs. Therapy dogs and their handlers are specially trained to interact with patients in a particular manner. They can participate in formal therapy sessions, which are often conducted by a licensed social worker or therapist.
Visiting dogs, meanwhile, are not certified and are not trained to perform any specific tasks or behaviors. These dogs are simply a soothing presence and enjoyable distraction for patients. They may undergo some training to learn how to best approach patients, and each visiting dog is approved by the hospice organization prior to its first visit to ensure safety and comfort for both the animal and the patient.
Both types of dogs should be at least one year old before interacting with patients. They must be well-behaved, with good leash habits and obedience skills. These dogs should also be calm when faced with canes, wheelchairs, and unfamiliar people, and they must also be up to date on their vaccines. Dogs may be required to pass a test in order to become therapy or visiting dogs, demonstrating that they are able to safely interact with hospice patients.
Who Benefits from Animal Assisted Therapy
Animal assisted therapy isn’t just for people who have had dogs or other pets in the past. The service can help a wide range of hospice patients in several different ways. Those who are able to walk and must engage in some light exercise each day may enjoy the task more if they can take their animal therapist on a short walk up and down the halls.
Therapy and visiting dogs can also help those with dementia or Alzheimer’s feel less agitated. These diseases cause confusion and forgetfulness that often leads to intense feelings of panic and anger. Patients who are prone to these behaviors may be better able to remain calm and manage these feelings after several visits from an animal friend who provides them with a regular sense of ease.
Finally, animal assisted therapy may be useful in helping patients who are reserved, closed off, or reluctant to socialize. Regular social interaction is an important element of hospice care, as it helps patients feel less lonely and improves their quality of life. A service animal can be the perfect way to encourage these patients to speak up more and work towards an optimistic outlook that improves their mental health. Conversations centering on the dog may lead to improved relationships with hospice staff and with visitors, enriching patients’ social lives.
Benefits of Pets for In-Home Hospice Care Patients
Therapy and visiting dogs are often available to make house calls and spend time with hospice care patients who have chosen to remain in their own homes for their treatment. However, families who already own pets can provide their loved ones with many of the same benefits as these animals, including relaxation, distraction, socialization, and a welcome break in the day to look forward to. Before introducing your pet to your loved one, ensure that the animal can remain calm and refrain from loud noises or sudden movements, which may frighten or harm your loved one. If your loved one is able to continue caring for a pet of their own, allowing them to continue completing small care tasks, such as light grooming and feeding, can help them feel independent and useful. This often leads to improved moods and outlooks, which are vital during the hospice phase of their lives.
Harbor Light Hospice’s Animal Assisted Therapy
Speak to Harbor Light Hospice for more information about animal assisted therapy and its benefits for your loved one. Harbor Light’s volunteer program recruits owners of dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, and other small animals to visit hospice patients in nursing homes, private homes, and extended care facilities. The organization uses this form of therapy in conjunction with music, pain management, and a variety of other hospice care methods to provide patients with a better quality of life. Programs to assist caregivers, including counseling and respite care, are also available.