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Pet Therapy Benefits For Seniors: Is A Pet Right For Your Loved One?

Pet Therapy Benefits for Seniors: Is A Pet Right For Your Loved One?

It’s no secret that humans benefit greatly from the companionship and unconditional love offered by pets. But did you know, according to research, pets also have a significant impact on our physical, emotional, and mental health? In fact, the effects of Animal Assisted Therapy, or pet therapy, are so powerful that it has become routine part of care in hospitals and nursing homes to help patients recover faster and combat depression. For seniors who live on their own, the benefits of having a pet can be life changing.

Pets ease feelings of loneliness

Having a pet to care for makes seniors feel needed which can result in an increased sense of purpose and spark a renewed interest in life. Having a pet companion can also ease feelings of loneliness and isolation, a leading cause of poor health among seniors.

Pets protect against heart disease and stroke

Walking a dog is great cardiovascular exercise, but even mild activities such as feeding, petting, and brushing a pet can help increase mobility and keep aging adults moving. Additionally, studies show a short time spent bonding with a pet lowers the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) released in the body while elevating the amount of serotonin and oxytocin (feel-good hormones). This chemical reaction results in a lower heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduced stress levels, all factors that help protect against heart disease and stroke.

Pets calm Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients

Due to the unique calming effect of animals, research indicates pets are also able to ease anxiety and agitation in dementia patients while improving their mood and increasing social interaction.  For reasons not yet fully understood, many times seniors who are withdrawn and non-communicative will suddenly begin talking and have a better ability to access memories.

In Addition, spending time with pets has been shown to increase appetite and improve nutrition in Alzheimer’s patients. Even a simple fish tank can have a positive effect. According to a 2002 Purdue University study, Alzheimer’s patients who ate meals next to an aquarium had an increased appetite gaining an average of 1.65 pounds over a six-week period.

Considerations for pet ownership:

  • Cost of pet ownership – Taking care of a pet can be an added monetary commitment that is often overlooked. Cost of food, vet visits, and grooming can add up quickly so it’s important to make sure there is enough money in your loved one’s budget to care for a pet.
  • Pet type and temperament – Finding a pet that will be a good fit for your loved one is important. For seniors that have limited mobility, an older dog might be a good option, as they tend to have less energy than younger dogs and require less physical activity.  An indoor cat might also be a good alternative. If an older pet sounds like a good match, now is the perfect time to adopt as November just so happens to be national “Adopt a senior pet month!”

Keep in mind that an in-home care provider can assist your loved one with pet-care duties such as feeding, walking, and cleaning up after a pet. A caregiver’s help can allow seniors living at home the ability to enjoy the many benefits of pet companionship, even if they need some assistance caring for the animal.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.

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