Dr. Cathleen Connell, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education in the School of Public Health and Associate Director of the Center for Managing Chronic Disease at the University of Michigan. Her research interests include chronic disease management and dementia caregiving.
Currently, Dr. Connell is working on a research project funded by the MADC that focuses on pets and dementia. The research goals of this project are twofold; a) to increase our understanding of the role pets play in support networks of households with an individual who has Alzheimer’s disease and b) to examine the role of pets in helping individuals to cope with early memory loss. The main questions that this research will address are: a) What is the support role of pets? b) What resources do families need to best care for their pets? And c) What other ways can access to pets help families facing dementia?
Why study pets and dementia? Dr. Connell has enthusiastically taken on this project for several reasons. One is that up to this point there has been virtually no research looking at the effects of a pet on individuals with dementia who are still living at home. Another reason is that she has a strong personal attachment to pets, starting with early exposure to virtually every possible kind of pet as a child. And, she observed her father’s close bond with a favorite Cairn terrier later in his life as he faced dementia. Finally, Dr. Connell and her standard poodle are a trained therapy team who enjoy visiting people with memory loss. The positive reactions toward her dog Blue and other therapy dogs confirmed that pets provide a special joy and comfort at times of need and vulnerability.
Since September 2011, the study team has gathered wonderful important information. To learn more about the preliminary findings, please check out Dr. Connell's quarterly progress report.