By Karen Jensen, Parkinson’s Association of San Diego
Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to move. Common motor symptoms include a tremor at rest, muscle stiffness, slowness of movement and postural instability. Additionally, people with Parkinson’s often deal with depression, anxiety and cognitive decline. Pets can play a role in easing some of these symptoms through their need for interaction and their ability to engage with people.
Pets provide companionship and can be soothing. They are happy simply to be near you and love nothing more than to have their back stroked or their head scratched. The simple motion of petting an animal has been shown to provide some relief for depression and anxiety, feelings common in people with Parkinson’s, and alleviate feelings of loneliness.
Pets encourage mobility through their love of play and their need for regular exercise. Regular walks with a dog provide needed exercise for both the person with Parkinson’s and their canine companion, often leading to opportunities for socialization with other dog owners and helping to lessen the feelings of isolation that often come with living with this condition.
If you have Parkinson’s and are thinking about adopting a dog, consider one who may someday be able to be a service dog. Adopt an adult dog that is sturdy enough to help with balance, has a calm demeanor and is not easily distracted by loud noises. A trained service dog can help maintain an even walking gait, “break” a “freeze” by touching the person’s foot with their paw and waiting until the person is able to start walking, assist with picking up dropped items, and so much more. The Parkinson’s Association of San Diego can provide an outline of the Paws for Parkinson’s program and a training protocol that can be used by any reputable trainer to meet your needs. Packets are sent out free of charge; call (858) 273-6763 for more information.
Pets can play an important role in the life of people with Parkinson’s and their families, relieving stress that can exacerbate symptoms and encouraging exercise. They provide comfort and companionship in a unique way that often makes them an invaluable part of Parkinson’s families.