Have you ever petted a dog in the head or had the pleasure of feeling the gentle rumble of a cat’s purr?
If you’ve ever experienced any of these, then for sure you’d know how calming the experience can be.
Having a pet presents heaps of health benefits to its owners.
For these reasons, more animals are being introduced into aged care facilities for therapeutic purposes.
Through pet therapy, animals interact with seniors to help improve their quality of life.
A study shows that spending just 15 minutes with a pet initiates hormonal changes in the brain, dropping stress levels and increasing serotonin levels (the “feel-good” hormone).
Physical and Cognitive Benefits of Pet Therapy
Pet therapy in aged care can provide a multitude of physical and cognitive benefits for the elderly.
According to a study, pet therapy can help improve depressive symptoms in residents in a long-term facility. Residents also experienced an overall improvement on self-perceived quality of life.
Pets also play an important role in terms of aid in recovering from loss. Elderly people who may have lost a spouse, or a family member will certainly benefit from the companionship of a pet cat or dog — as it can provide comfort during times of grief.
- Decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases by increasing activity and exercise
- Improves motor skills
- Improves strength and balance
- Improves independent movement
- Increases willingness to be involved in activities
- Reduced symptoms of depression, PTSD, and anxiety
- Increased self-esteem and self-worth
- Reduced feeling of loneliness and isolation
- Improved communication skills and the mood to interact
Pet Therapy for the Elderly with Dementia
For the elderly with dementia, pet therapy can greatly help reduce loneliness, anxiety, and confusion.
Regular visits from therapy animals can assist in alleviating some frustration and helplessness experienced by the elderly with dementia.
Aside from positive emotion, one of the biggest benefits of pet therapy for the elderly with dementia is mental stimulation — something quite crucial for dementia patients.
Another study concluded that participants with dementia experienced a significant increase in social behaviour and a decrease in behavioural disturbances after interacting with a dog.
The benefits of pet therapy in aged care is something not to be underestimated, especially if it can contribute this much of a positive effect on our elderly people.
Types of Pet Therapy
- Ownership Therapy – This type of pet therapy is where the patient is actually given the responsibility to look after a pet. This option is perfect for seniors who are active and able to take care of a pet.
- Visitation Therapy – This may be arguably the most common type of pet therapy for the elderly. Usually, therapy dogs or cats come and visit nursing homes, hospitals, and aged care facilities to spend time with patients and residents.
- Animal-Assisted Therapy – Out of the three, this type of pet therapy is by far the most extensive one. Patients who are in need of rehabilitation are paired with highly trained and sensitive animals such as horses or dolphins as part of their therapy routine. The interaction between the patient and these animals help refine the patient’s physical skills and slowly build their confidence.
The Most Common Animals for Pet Therapy
1. Dogs – Overall, dogs are a sensational choice for pet therapy for elders. Dogs are extremely loyal and are great at becoming in tune with their owners. Dogs love unconditionally without asking for much (maybe except for treats).
Some of the best breeds to consider are the Maltese, Bichon Frise, Golden Retriever, Boston Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, Retired Greyhound, etc. Of course, other breeds will work as well, it just depends on how much they are trained and how compatible are they with their elderly counter-part.
2. Cats – Cats are another ideal pet for seniors. If the responsibility of looking after a dog is too much or too demanding, then a cat is the next best choice. Kittens are really cute, but can also be too much for a senior person with mobility issues. However, a house-trained, adult cat from a rescue centre is a great option.
Typically, these types of cats are more content with entertaining themselves, unlike dogs who follow their owners all over the place. Cats will come to their owners if they want affection or needs something — it’s all on their terms.
3. Birds – A tamed cockatiel or parakeet can also be delightful companions for the elderly. Birds don’t require much space at all and can be trained to speak and make silly, entertaining noises. Birds can also be very affectionate and enjoy gentle scratches to their head.
Seniors who have mobility issues will enjoy the company a bird can provide, as they don’t really require much, can be an excellent companion to talk to, and can keep seniors entertained with funny noises.
4. Fishes – Fish are low-maintenance, making them perfectly suited for pets to seniors. Watching them swim around and interact within their environment can be highly relaxing to most seniors.
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