Benefits Of Enduring Memory Of Lost Pets For Dementia Sufferers

Dementia Patient

Dementia Patient

Memory loss is one of the well-known symptoms of dementia. Janine Valentine, a nurse consultant for dementia and the elderly at Yeovil Hospital in the UK, has discovered that one of the enduring memories of dementia patient is of their deceased pet or a pet they once cared for. My immediate thought about this is that it confirms that some of our best and most memorable moments concern our relationship with our companion cat or dog.

One of the responsibilities of Mrs Valentine is to find ways for medical staff at the hospital to build a relationship with patients who suffer from dementia.

I’m not sure how the idea came to fruition but knitted dogs and cats and perhaps other animals (about 9 inches in length) were created by nurses and volunteers at Yeovil hospital. They were made for patients with advanced dementia and each individual knitted animal was made to match the breed of cat or dog, or if not the breed the appearance of the animal, that was once owned by the dementia patient.

Initially, the patient may have found the knitted companion animal to be confusing but apparently, with a bit of luck, a smile of happy recognition then appears on the face of the patient.

This is a neat idea and quite an important one because there is a pressing need for dementia patients to build a relationship with their medical carers because dementia patients are 20% more likely to die than other patients and 3 times more likely to suffer from an injury. Their stay at hospital is usually 20% longer than average.

Clearly, a better connection with the medical staff may help to improve these statistics. Mrs Valentine wisely and caringly says that “we need to start valuing older people with dementia”. She adds, “the patients we see deserve so much”. I totally agree.

As I understand it, her initiative in creating these knitted companion animals is part of a wider campaign called “Face to a Name”, which was founded by Giovanna Forte and Jake Arnold Foster. I suppose the campaign is born out of a need to put a face to a person at hospital in the interests of better medical care.

My final thought on this is that the value of a companion animal is reflected in the deep and lasting memories of their caretakers.

Original photo by GollyGforce – Living My Worst Nightmare. The image links to the original

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Benefits Of Enduring Memory Of Lost Pets For Dementia Sufferers — 10 Comments

  1. Simply beautiful what is being done.
    I’m positive that, if ever demented, pictures or likeness of my cats would turn on a light bulb for me more that anything else.

    • Me too.It is interesting that the hospital shows a pet to turn the light on. And that was a wise choice because people form very close relationships with their companion animals and the memories are hard to remove even with dementia.

      Thanks for commenting, Dee. This is not the sort of subject matter that people often comment on 😉

      • I don’t know why this wouldn’t be comment worthy.
        Not many people haven’t been touched by dementia in some way.
        There’s a point where the afflicted person isn’t a sufferer anymore, but their family/loved ones are.
        Do you know what it would mean for a son or daughter to see their parent recognize and engage with even a knit cat that has some familiarity? It would be priceless.
        They would cry, and so would I, watching that.

        • Good point that at a certain point the carer of the dementia patient is the sufferer. God, it can be tough for some carers. Why is life so cruel?

      • Yes, I suppose they could bring in therapy cats. I guess they wanted to replicate the cat they cared for before dementia set in and the way to do that was through a knitted toy.

  2. I’m sure that a lot of people don’t realize how significant this is.
    These people are breaking through the fog.
    So many dementia patients can look at picture album after album and not recognize their human loved ones, and not even themselves.
    This is exciting for me, not just for the patients, but for what an important role animals play in peoples’ lives.

    • It is breaking through the fog and this nurse realised that companion cats and dogs have the most powerful effect.

  3. My mother had early onset Alzheimer’s. She started showing signs mid fifties. She lived to be days away from her 80th birthday. The last couple of years she was bed ridden and in a very different world. She never looked stressed out. She hadn’t spoken a word in over 15 years. But one thing I remember well while she was still up, if sitting on a chair, she would always reach down to pet my sisters dog. Even if the dog wasn’t there. She lived with my sister then. The dog was great comfort to her. And kept her busy by always looking around for him. Many things were reflex during those years, but you could see it in her eyes the knowing of the little dog.

    • Nice comment DW. There is something subliminally very powerful in our relationship with companion animals. I think we need the relationship because we need a connection with nature, which we have lost.

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