Pet Therapy - Senior's Best Friend
From guiding the blind to fetching the Sunday paper, “man’s best friend” has proven to be a great friend indeed. It seems that as research increases, the benefits provided by our four-legged friends do as well – particularly for seniors.
Studies show that senior pet owners make fewer doctors’ visits than those without pets. Pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, is a process that uses animals to help people recover from or cope with health problems. The method has been linked to an impressive number of benefits, including:
- Decreased heart rate and blood pressure
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Enhanced mood
- Increased physical activity
- Lessening isolation and promoting social interaction
- Helping maintain a daily routine
- Giving a sense of purpose
- Offering safety, security and companionship
Pets can also help seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. One study concluded that Alzheimer’s patients with a pet in the home suffer less stress and have fewer anxious outbursts. Animals offer positive, nonverbal communication. Interaction and gentle touch from a well-suited pet can sooth a dementia patient and decrease aggressive behavior.
Reaping the rewards of pet therapy does not require owning one. Organizations (such as Love On A Leash) offer specifically trained animals to visit people in hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, hospice programs and other areas.
There are also organizations for seniors and caregivers who are willing and able to have a pet in their home. These programs help make informed decisions and find a well-suited pet. Seniors for Seniors is a program offered by shelters and rescue organizations to match senior dogs and cats (typically over 7 years of age) with senior citizens, based on the elder’s lifestyle and housing situation.
The St. Louis group Senior Dogs 4 Seniors both places dogs with seniors and offers nursing home and hospital visits. They also provide service options for seniors needing assistance with the continuous care that pets require. The organization has such a commitment to finding an ideal match that, like Seniors Home Care, they conduct a home assessment before finalizing arrangements.
There are many factors to considering pet therapy but the overall consensus is that, whether it’s a longtime companion, new adoptee, brief visit or member of a pet therapy program, an animal may be just the addition to improving a senior’s quality of life.
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