Stroking a dog's soft ear transports Fay King-Turner from the locked dementia ward at Princess Margaret Hospital to her childhood on a farm.
King-Turner is one of 20 patients at the hospital's K1 ward, a dementia and delirium unit, where a pet therapy trial is under way.
Each week, either Kendra, a placid golden retriever, or Le Roy, a border collie, visits with their owners.
Occupational therapist Laura Haslam said pet therapy was a recognised intervention for people with dementia and was part of a broader people-centred approach to their care.
"Although people with dementia have got cognitive impairments, they're still people.
"To work with them and to be respectful with them you really need to understand who they are as a person ... and normal, familiar, everyday activities are beneficial."
The dogs' visits provided a sensory experience for patients and helped them recall memories, especially if they had owned pets themselves.
"People are drawn to the dog a bit like a magnet," Haslam said.
For King-Turner, a visit from the golden retriever sparked memories of her childhood dog, Stroke, which lived to 25 on her family's farm.
"It's very pleasing to all," she said of the highlight of her week. "It must please the patients very much to have such a beautiful looking dog here."
Kendra's owner, Gaelyn Beswick, said it was not just the patients who enjoyed the visits. "She (Kendra) obviously loves all the pats and all the attention."
The trial will finish next month, but Haslam hopes to make the successful initiative permanent.
- The Press
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