Monday, July 3rd, 2017
They say dog is man’s best friend, but for stroke survivors, a dog can mean even more than that. Dogs tend to respond well to training and have the temperaments to be good companions. For this reason, more and more stroke survivors are finding comfort, support, and assistance during recovery in the form of pet therapy dogs.
These animals are not just the pets you’ll find at the pet store; they go through special training to become service animals ready to help in a multitude of ways. And by simply caring for a dog (brushing, feeding, walking), survivors experience therapeutic effects.
Pet therapy is not just a fancy term for having a pet. Pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy or AAT, uses trained animals as a form of treatment. While almost any kind of domesticated animal can be a part of pet therapy, canine therapy is the most common and most popular. Dogs are ideal therapy animals because they are comforting and non-judgemental, and therapy dogs undergo extensive training before working with a patient.
In pet therapy sessions, the patient normally works with a licensed therapist, a trained animal, and the animal’s handler to help with their recovery. In these sessions, the animal can assist the patient with a variety of symptoms, including aphasia, spasticity, hemiparesis, and depression. Here are some of the benefits pet therapy can have for stroke patients:
One great benefit of pet therapy is how it can make stroke survivors feel less lonely. Having a stroke can be an isolating experience. If the survivor suffers from aphasia, it may be difficult for them to communicate with others. If they are unable to walk, they will likely spend most of their time at home. An animal provides company and stimulation, allowing a stroke survivor to have a more varied lifestyle.
A dog can provide an incentive for a stroke survivor to want to work on gait training and rebuilding their walking ability. Christi Dudzik, an animal assisted therapy provider, has seen patients when working with a therapy dog walk twice as far as they did the day before. The reason behind this, she says, is that “they are distracted by the dog and aren’t aware they’re walking twice as far.”
Pets encourage stroke survivors with aphasia to try to communicate. Dogs are able to pick up on nonverbal cues, like hand signals and sounds, and may respond to just one word, making it easier for someone with aphasia to practice communicating. When out and about with a dog, the pet is also a great conversation starter, giving the stroke survivor more opportunities to practice talking with strangers.
Stroke recovery and rehabilitation can be difficult, and it can take an emotional toll on the survivor. Pets offer the acceptance, love, and motivation that a stroke survivor may struggle to find in themselves. Even just petting an animal can provide a calming and comforting effect that can help with a survivor’s mental health.
Therapy dogs can assist a stroke survivor with their stroke recovery exercises. A simple activity like brushing the dog’s fur can act as a hand exercise and help decrease spasticity and increase motor recovery. They can also practice motor tasks by doing things like snapping the dog’s leash on and off, tying a bandana around their neck, and feeding them treats.
For stroke survivors, an animal could be the missing link in their recovery efforts. Dogs are common therapy pets, and there are many benefits to having one. They can provide the comfort and motivation a stroke survivor needs to power through their recovery and improve their mental health. Caring for a dog may also improve confidence in survivors because it makes it easier for them to meet people and be social.
All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by the Saebo website is solely at your own risk.