The companionship of a pet can be life changing for people of all ages, but it can be especially beneficial for seniors. Many seniors struggle with loneliness, isolation, and depression. A pet can bring comfort and joy to a senior living alone or with other family members. Spending time with a dog or cat has also shown to promote overall health. If you do not have a dog or cat, pet therapy is an available option. For seniors living in a retirement, assisted living community, rehab center or in hospice, there are individuals and organizations that will bring therapy pets in to visit with residents. If your senior is being cared for at home or living independently, pet therapy is still available. To learn more about the benefits of pet therapy for seniors, read on.
Physical health benefits of pet therapy
As we age, our bodies become more fragile and prone to health issues and injuries. These physical challenges can make exercise difficult for seniors. Pet therapy provides a mix of physical health benefits including:
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduction in physical symptoms of anxiety (i.e., trembling, sweating)
- Improved mobility
- Increased energy to exercise
Pet therapy can be combined with other therapies to help seniors begin an exercise regime and build physical strength. For more information on exercising as you age, check out our blog post on the topic.
Emotional benefits of pet therapy for seniors
Sadly, it is common for seniors to experience loneliness, which often brings on feelings of anxiety and depression. Pet therapy helps combat these feelings. Simply having a dog or cat to sit with and interact with brings about feelings of joy, peace and reduces negative feelings from being alone. Organizations offer opportunities for individual pet owners to certify and register a pet as an emotional support animal. If you secure proper approvals and certifications for a pet, they can visit hospitals and retirement homes, accompany owners on airline flights and, in some cases, live in an apartment free of charge.
A few of the major emotional benefits of pet therapy include:
- Reduced feelings of loneliness feelings
- Decreased anxiety and depression
- Increased social skills
- Increased confidence and self- esteem
- Increased feelings of compassion and peacefulness
Mental benefits of pet therapy for seniors
A study by the National Library of Medicine revealed that spending as little as 15 minutes with an animal initiates hormonal changes in the brain which can lower stress levels and increase serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone). Here are a few other mental benefits of pet therapy:
- Improved sense of purpose in life
- Stimulates memory
- Calming behaviors
- Mental stimulation
Not only do pets bring a sense of comfort but caring for a pet also requires a level of responsibility for a senior which is good for their overall health and daily life.
It is important to note that pet therapy alone is not a cure for health issues. We recommend speaking with a medical professional about the mental, emotional, and physical benefits of innovative therapies like pet therapy discussed in this blog. If you are caring for an aging loved one or considering options to benefit your own overall health, various supplemental therapies can make a difference.
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