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Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors

Common Area Seating - Canfield Place Retirement Community

Alissa Sauer

The companionship of a pet can be an invaluable tool bringing purpose and engagement for people of all ages, and especially for seniors. Spending time with a pet is a powerful way to combat loneliness and isolation, bringing comfort and companionship while reducing stress and promoting overall health and wellness. Learn more about pet therapy and how it can improve the lives of seniors.

What is Pet Therapy?

Anyone who has spent time with a loving dog or heard the rumble of a cat’s purr knows that animals have a powerful effect on people. A pet companion can bring many health benefits to seniors, even if seniors are unable to properly care for a pet. Through pet therapy animals interact with seniors to help improve their quality of life.

Pet therapy can occur in a range of settings including retirement communities, hospices, rehabilitation centers, and senior’s homes. Animals used in pet therapy range from domesticated cats and dogs to farm animals. Animals who are therapy trained, go through a basic obedience course, must be well socialized, and understand how to interact with seniors who have limited mobility.

There are three main types of pet therapy for seniors and each one has unique benefits.

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Types of Pet Therapy

Ownership Therapy

Ownership therapy is where the senior actually owns the pet. This is a great option for seniors who are active and able to properly care for a pet. This would include walking and exercising a pet, being able to take and pay for veterinary care, and managing grooming services.

Visitation Therapy

Visitation therapy is the most common type of pet therapy. This type of therapy involves animals visiting the senior in his or her home or at their senior living community.

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Animal-assisted therapy is an intensive form of pet therapy reserved for seniors who need extreme rehabilitation. Seniors are paired with highly sensitive animals, like dolphins or horses, as part of their therapy, helping to promote physical skills and build confidence.

Holistic Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors

Research has shown that pet owners are generally less likely to feel lonely, visit the doctor less often, take less medication, recover from illness faster, and cope better with stress. One study even found that spending just 15 minutes with an animal initiates hormonal changes in the brain, dropping stress levels and increasing serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone) levels.

For people of all ages, pets offer emotional, physical, and mental benefits, but specifically for seniors who are at an increased risk for loneliness and isolation.

Emotional Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors

Emotional benefits of pet therapy for seniors include:

  • Increased self-esteem and confidence
  • Improved social skills
  • Reduced risk of depression
  • Lessened levels of anxiety
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness
  • An increased ability to show gentleness and caring

Physical Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors

Physical benefits of pet therapy can differ depending on the type of therapy being practiced but often include:

  • Increased levels of exercise
  • More mobility from caring for a pet
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Reduction in depression, stress, and anxiety levels
  • Improved physical skills for more intensive programs like horseback riding or swimming with dolphins

Mental Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors

Pet therapy provides incredible mental benefits for seniors, especially for those living with dementia or another form of cognitive impairment.

  • Improved mental stimulation
  • Increased socialization
  • Strengthened ability to plan for pet’s care
  • Improved sense of purpose and meaning
  • Memory stimulation
  • Calming negative behaviors associated with dementia

We believe so strongly in the power of pets that all Leisure Care independent living and assisted living communities are pet-friendly. Some of our communities even offer pet care! Bring your furry friend by one of our communities today to see how we can help enhance your life – and the life of your favorite pet!

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