Pets as Therapy: The Benefits of Pets for Seniors by V!VA Mississauga
Published on May 20, 2022
For years researchers have been studying the physical, mental, social, and emotional effects of pet therapy for seniors. While each study presents its own variables, the overall conclusion is that seniors can benefit greatly when pet therapy is introduced in senior living communities.
What Is Pet Therapy?
Pet therapy typically consists of animal-assisted therapy and other animal-assisted activities. It involves interaction between a person and a trained animal, and it is usually initiated by a trainer. Whether it be a dog, a cat, a bird, or another animal, pets are used to help people recover from or better cope with health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and mental health disorders. Pets and other animal companions have been known to provide contentment, calmness, and a sense of inner peace.
All animals that participate in pet therapy have undergone a structured training regimen to prepare for such work.
What Are the Different Types of Pet Therapy?
Pet therapy is becoming a permanent staple in retirement communities, hospitals, schools, and other group facilities. While this form of therapy refers to a collective treatment involving the assistance of animals, there are three main types of animal therapy.
Animal-assisted pet therapy for seniors is used in situations where physical rehabilitation is required. In these cases, highly sensitive and strong animals such as horses are used to help the senior gain physical strength. This interaction also helps to build self-confidence and give hope to the senior.
Visitation pet therapy is the most commonly known type of pet therapy wherein the trainer and the animal visit the senior in their retirement community. This therapy is often used in groups or in individual cases, depending on the training of the animal. Many retirement communities in Mississauga offer regularly scheduled visits by therapy pets.
Ownership therapy refers to the specialized training of the senior’s pet. Similar to guide dogs, these pets receive the same form of training as those in the visitation and animal-assisted therapy groups, but they are the sole responsibility of the able senior.
Physical, Emotional, and Mental Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors
Pet therapy has been shown to help lower stress levels, promote serotonin production, cut anxiety, and reduce high blood pressure. By allowing pet therapy as a regular activity, retirement communities are investing in the health and well-being of their senior members.
The physical benefits from pet therapy vary based on the animal’s training, the physical state of the senior, and the type of therapy involved. These can include an increase in the mobile ability of the senior, a reduction in one’s blood pressure levels, and a measured improvement in anxiety, depression, and stress levels.
Emotionally, a senior may be reminded of a beloved pet from a time before or may discover a love for animals that was never realized in the past. The emotional benefits range from improving self-esteem and gentleness towards animals to reducing feelings of loneliness.
In reference to the mental benefits, pet therapy can be used for those seniors with good cognitive functions as well as with those living with a form of dementia or severe depression. Aides often see improvements in socialization skills, memory stimulation, and an overall sense of purpose, particularly with seniors taking part in caring for a pet.
Pros and Cons: Should Seniors Adopt a Pet?
While pet therapy is not a new form of therapy for seniors, it is unfortunately not a widespread available treatment. For those seniors who can benefit from animal interaction on a more permanent basis, the question of whether seniors should adopt a pet becomes a discussion.
Let’s start with the pros for a senior to adopt a pet. Aside from the clinical and scientific studies, we know the companionship of a pet offers health benefits. A dog owner needs to take the responsibility of walking their pet everyday which translates to more outdoor exercise for themselves.
Having a pet can also reduce loneliness as the senior will always be in the company of the animal. All pets crave attention. This can also help diminish depressive thoughts and feelings as it gives seniors a sense of purpose.
Seniors are also more likely to reminisce about the past and worry about the future. With a pet by their side, however, it helps them to live in the moment. From walks to cuddles and feeding, a pet can help seniors enjoy life as it is now.
As with any subject, adopting a pet can be met with disadvantages, particularly for seniors. Whether it is a cat or a dog, there are physical consequences to owning a pet. Many pets require physical attention and care or can have health issues of their own. This may be too much for some seniors, especially for those with mobility issues themselves.
Caring for a pet is a huge responsibility in more ways than physical ability. Committing to the care of an animal entails time, effort, energy, and money. From food, daily care, attention, and routine visits to the vet, having a pet can be overwhelming.
Albeit a sensitive subject, having a pet outlive the senior may put stress on the owner themselves. It certainly doesn’t take long to become deeply attached and love a pet. Without a stable plan for the animal after they are gone, the senior may develop anxiety and high blood pressure from the worry.
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