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Ask the Hippie

By Phyllis DeLaricheliere, MS

Dogs.  They have been documented as far back as 30 million years ago. Throughout history, the dog has been referred to as loyal, protective, and a loyal companion – “Man’s Best Friend.”  The connection between humans and dogs is both organic and holistic.  They give us unconditional love and trust and bring out the best in us.

Records indicate that animal therapy was used with patients suffering with mental illness as early as the 18thcentury. Hospitals started to adapt the use of domestic animals in 1860 and then introduced therapy dogs.  These dogs were first used in 1863, during the Civil War, as a morale support for soldiers.

Research since then has shown that the presence of a dog around humans stimulates five “happy hormones” in the brain that naturally boost health.

  • The “feel good” hormone is Oxytocin. This is also known as the love and cuddle hormone.
  • The “reward” hormone is Dopamine. This stimulates a sense of well-being.
  • The “mood booster” hormone is Serotonin. Just by walking the dog, this hormone is stimulated.
  • The “happy” hormone is Estrogen. This protects you from anxiety and depression.
  • The “Sleeping Beauty” hormone is known as Progesterone. This helps you sleep well and prevents mood swings and irritability.

Over the last several years, dogs have been increasingly used with those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia in what has come to be known as Pet Therapy and Animal-Assisted Therapy. The phrase Pet Therapy is now synonymous with dogs visiting someone in a facility or in their home. This therapy has been proven to be extremely successful and the interactions between animal and human positive for the patient.  A noticeable change in their demeanor and attitude is easily observed and recorded.   Progressive thinking has resulted in the practice of dogs now living in nursing facility with patients as residents themselves. These live-in pets create a home-like atmosphere to these facilities and data show that just the presence of the dog lowers stress levels in both patients and caregivers.

I’m a believer of holistic approaches to treating Alzheimer’s and dementia.  With so many on this diagnosed journey suffering through anxiety, loss of vocabulary, depression, and isolation, it’s great to find a simple therapy that can help alleviate these symptoms.  Research now finds that a dog’s positive unselfish energy, through the sense of touch, allows someone with dementia to experience this energy as it begins to stimulate happy hormones.  It also promotes conversation, as a dog does not judge their human friend’s ability to recall or remember.  Just the presence of a dog pulls them out of depression and lowers anxiety.  Further health benefits are also realized in lowering blood pressure and heart rates.

Just as it is important to “KNOW YOUR RESIDENT, PATIENT or LOVED ONE,” so should you know the pet. Dogs, like humans, have all sorts of personalities and you should always match your dog with your energy and lifestyle. This also applies to therapy dogs. Calmer and friendlier dogs work best with those with Alzheimer’s/dementia, as these animals provide a stress-free platform for the person diagnosed to be greeted on.  These furry companions can be a great tool to allow our loved ones on the journey to feel comforted, not alone, and accepted.  Even when they have NEVER had a dog before.


2016-new-headshot1About the Author.Phyllis A. DeLaricheliere, MS ,is a sought-after speaker/educator and is getting ready to publish her book, Embracing the Journey: Knowing your Inner Hippie. Her passion for finding solutions to the dementia epidemic has turned into a crusade and she is humbled to be able to touch so many caregivers out there that she respects so much. To book Phyllis for a lecture or to get on the pre-published waitlist for her book, email her at knowyourhippie@gmail.com

Reprinted from the October 2019 edition of the South Shore Senior News.