Clisham Ward ‘adopts’ therapy dog for dementia patients

One of the Clisham patients, Ann Macleod (standing) with Molly. Also in the photograph are Anne Murray, Mental Health Patient Services Senior Charge Nurse (centre) and Clisham Ward Staff Nurse Janine Mackenzie.
One of the Clisham patients, Ann Macleod (standing) with Molly. Also in the photograph are Anne Murray, Mental Health Patient Services Senior Charge Nurse (centre) and Clisham Ward Staff Nurse Janine Mackenzie.

Patients and staff in Clisham Ward in Western Isles Hospital have welcomed the latest addition to the Clisham team; ‘Molly’ the golden Labrador.

Recent Clisham team meetings have generated lots of ideas for patient activities, ranging from traditional arts and crafts to musical sessions. The latest development, however, has been the introduction of a visiting therapy dog.

There is significant evidence of the benefits that therapy pets have on older people suffering from cognitive impairments, such as dementia. Animal-assisted therapy has a growing reputation specifically for eliciting positive social interaction and decreasing agitation in dementia patients.

Many people with dementia experience periods of agitation, especially in the evening hours. This is not only stressful for the person with dementia, it can be very difficult for caregivers and family members as well.

Studies have shown that regular contact with a pet can help decrease anxiety and increase feelings of calm and wellbeing. Some dementia patients have even been able to stop taking anti-anxiety medication after regular contact with pets was initiated.

Pets can enhance the patient’s connection to his or her world. Even people with very advanced dementia will sometimes respond to the comforting presence of an animal even if they respond to little else. Pet visits also allow people with dementia a chance to ‘play’ with the animal and express themselves creatively.

Molly, who is a six-year-old pet therapy dog, has been a regular visitor to Alzheimer’s Scotland Day Centre in Stronoway for many years and has proved a big hit with the clients there.

Molly made her first visit to Clisham on December 4th, where some of the patients met her for the first time, and enjoyed the visit. Molly will be visiting Clisham on a weekly basis.

Janine Mackenzie, a Staff Nurse in Clisham, said: “We are delighted that Molly will be coming to visit the patients on a weekly basis. There are a number of benefits to having a therapy dog, not least the pleasure it gives to the patients and the possibility of increased physical activity from even throwing a toy or a ball or getting up to pat Molly.

“The introduction of therapy pets has also demonstrated improved cognitive and daily living skills, as well as social, special and motor skills.”

She added: “A key activity that is often impaired in patients with dementia is appetite, and subsequent weight loss. One particularly important finding from research is that dementia patients often show signs of improved eating after a dog’s visit.”