David Smit, Mike the dogTexas-based medical director and physician David Smith, MD, CMD, has a secret tool to help him connect with families.

He often brings his dog, Mike, with him on rounds, and the big Labrador retriever with the happy face helps people open up.

“Having a pet shows what kind of person I am. If I’m nice to my dog, they know I’ll probably be nice to them. At the same time, if they like my dog, they like me. And they’re more likely to be open with someone they like,“ he says.

Mike also scores points with residents. He has a bad leg and often limps, and many residents—who have mobility issues of their own—identify and sympathize with his disability. At the same time, a number of Smith’s residents were hunters, farmers, and outdoor enthusiasts before they entered long term care, and Mike brings back happy memories.

The role of pets, music, aromatherapy, and alternative therapies in caring for patients with dementia has been widely documented. The more facility staff know their residents, the better able they are to determine which of these types of therapies are most likely to produce results, experts say.