Pet therapy for elderly people can boost their well-being and improve their physical, mental, and emotional functioning. Interacting with a kind and affectionate animal can lower people’s stress levels, help them become more active, and bring them out of their shells. This can be immensely helpful to seniors who are struggling with loneliness or dealing with health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, chronic pain, or dementia.
Having animals around can benefit seniors in a whole host of ways. For instance, walking a dog is obviously good exercise. Feeding, brushing, and caring for a pet can also help a senior feel needed and purposeful. Plus, the total acceptance and unconditional love that animals give can go a long way toward lowering people’s stress levels and helping shift their focus away from their own problems.
Animal-assisted therapy benefits for seniors can also include:
- Increased self-esteem
- Reduced feelings of anxiety and isolation
- Decreased blood pressure and heart rate
- Improved motor skills
- Increased social interaction
- Stimulated memory as seniors reminisce about pets they used to have
- Quicker recovery time from injuries
- Higher levels of physical activity
Research has shown that dogs are attuned to human emotional states and will seek to help people in distress. So it’s not surprising that therapy dogs are good for easing anxiety in and providing comfort to older adults. Dogs are used in therapy to offer companionship and affection and enhance people’s physical and mental health.
Commonly, dog therapy programs involve volunteer animals and their handlers coming to spend time with elderly people in hospitals and nursing homes. When a therapy dog visits, the seniors might feed, pet, groom, walk, or play with the animal. These interactions can help speed a senior’s recovery from illness or injury or just help lift his or her spirits.
To be effective as therapy dogs, the animals must be patient, obedient, calm, friendly, well-socialized, and even-tempered. They must welcome being petted and cuddled by unfamiliar people and take direction well. In addition, a therapy dog trainer must ensure that the dogs become acclimated to equipment like canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and motorized beds. And dogs that work with dementia patients must be comfortable with the mood swings that people with this condition frequently exhibit.
Carolynn LaPenta is Bailey’s certified Handler and Owner of FURRY COMPANIONS a Therapy Dog Service based out of Newmarket, Ontario. She has worked in the social services field with adults and children for over 30 years.