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brainhealth lifestyle research riskfactors Alzheimer's dementia

Ann Campanella

The right animals can provide comfort, a sense of security and even serve as a reminder of childhood pets. My mother never failed to brighten in the presence of animals, and her joy was a reminder of the wonderful gift she had passed down to me.

Ann Campanella lost her Mom, Betty, to Alzheimer’s 10 years ago, after caring for her for 14 years. Ann is on the management team of AlzAuthors.com, a blog that represents over 100 authors who have written about Alzheimer’s and dementia. Her memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, focuses on her mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

When I was 33, I was looking forward to starting a family and sharing my children with a sweet and loving grandmother. That’s when Mom’s slow spiral into Alzheimer’s began. She was 73.

Over a several-year period, in addition to losing parts of my mother, I had a series of miscarriages. The life I had imagined living gradually unraveled before my eyes. Between my mother’s Alzheimer’s and my pregnancy losses, the idea of motherhood faded and turned to mist.

My mother went from kind and caring to anxious and jittery, confused and angry. She forgot appointments and grew suspicious of family members. Some days, she didn’t recognize me. She was no longer the mother I had grown up counting on. As a long-time horsewoman, I turned to my horse Crimson during these dark hours, and stood beside him with my head against his neck. Spending time with Crimson absorbed my grief, and I’d return home with a sense of peace.

Amazingly, this experience with my horse connected me with an intuitive part of my mother I had forgotten about. She, too, had always been an animal lover. As a child, when I brushed my pony Cochise, Mom would stand beside him murmuring sweet words and caressing the soft flannel of his nose.

Even during the latter stages of Mom’s disease, she would transform in the presence of an animal. When someone brought a dog to her nursing home, she would “wake” from her passive state, reach out her hand and coo, “Aww, look at that sweet thing.” For a moment, her confusion melted away and was replaced with playful joy.

If you have a loved one who has an affection for animals, my advice would be the following: Don’t be afraid to allow that connection to flourish. The right animals can provide comfort, a sense of security and even serve as a reminder of childhood pets. My mother never failed to brighten in the presence of animals, and her joy was a reminder of the wonderful gift she had passed down to me.

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