The Value of Pets for Seniors
Many people enjoy the companionship of a dog or cat, but the benefits can be even greater for seniors. Studies have shown improved physical and mental health as the result of owning a pet.
Physical Benefits of Seniors Owning a Pet
Dog owners are more active because they must ensure the pets get regular exercise. On days when they might skip a walk, seniors will get up and go anyway because the dog needs to get outside. Fresh air and exercise is just as important for the human as for the animal.
Regular exercise often translates into lower cholesterol and sugar levels, which could lead to heart problems and diabetes if left untreated. It may also help lower blood pressure and reduce stress levels, which often results in many health conditions. Some studies even indicate a reduced need for medication for people occurs from petting a dog or cat, which produces an automated release of calming hormones.
Mental and Emotional Benefits of Owning a Pet for Seniors
Perhaps the more important benefits are the ones you can’t see at first. Seniors who own pets are less likely to suffer from depression. They have someone to talk to, a companion who is by their side every day. Having a furry friend at their feet or in their lap provides a valuable source of comfort and eases loneliness for those who can’t get out as much as they’d like.
Studies have shown that owning animal can reduce an elderly person’s anxiety. Instead of focusing on limitations or concerns about tomorrow, they must focus on what the pet needs now. A dog or cat provides a sense of stability and routine. It needs fed, watered and walked every day. Having someone depend on you, even a four-legged friend, provides seniors with a sense of purpose.
Therapeutic Pets For Seniors
Many senior living facilities have taken the information learned from studies on the elderly with pets to create programs which provide interaction between the residents and specially-trained animals.
Therapy dogs have been trained to visit assisted living centres and other facilities to bring excitement and happiness to those who can’t take care of their own pets. Some of the animals perform tricks to the delight of the residents who watch the shows with laughter in spite of pain or other health conditions. Others are brought in simply to give and receive love from the while being petted or playing a quiet game of fetch.
These dogs must be evaluated to ensure a quiet temperament. Handlers work with them to adapt to a variety of environments and ensure the person’s safety. Trainers spend weeks or even months practicing with the dogs, acclimating them to various situations and ensuring they are comfortable around other animals and groups of people. However, each dog has its own personality, and many residents gravitate towards one which provides a reminder of the past.
Facilities often schedule regular visits from the therapy dogs. This time provides a break from routine and a distraction from the limitations they live with every day. The benefits last long after the visit has ended, while giving residents something to look forward to the next time.
Pets offer a wide variety of benefits to seniors, whether the person is at home and can own one or must enjoy visits from therapy dogs in a nursing home or assisted-living facility. Caregivers who are concerned about elderly loved ones or want to enhance the quality of life should consider providing a home for an animal to meet this need.