Pet Therapy Brings Health Benefits to Seniors
Seniors find that adopting pets can improve health
by Stuart Mapes
Man’s best friend can also be a pretty good home health nurse. Research has shown for a while that bonding with a pet makes many people happy, but newer research is showing that the companionship between a senior and a pet can bring about more tangible health benefits.
It’s becoming more and more common to see animals used in hospitals, rehab programs, hospice care, and even in senior apartments and nursing homes. Dogs, cats, birds, bunnies, and horses have all been used to provide comfort especially for aging people.
Joan Collins, a senior in Richmond, Virginia, lives alone and has had her cat, Havoc, since July 2012. Collins’ granddaughters convinced her that she needed a kitten around, and she has found that living with Havoc has been a great experience.
“The biggest benefit is the company. You can be tired and sit down and the cat crawls up in your lap and loves you. It’s real therapy,” she says. Research has shown that the simple act of petting an animal can be soothing. Although it’s a real job, Collins believes that adopting a pet is well worth it.
Pets can also help prevent depression and loneliness. Having a pet around makes seniors feel less alone, and bonding with the pet can be relaxing and reduce stress. Seniors may even feel a sense of purpose because their pets depend on them. Feeling unneeded or unwanted is a major cause of depression for the elderly.
Caring for animals promotes physical activity too. Seniors may get exercise walking a dog regularly, and even simple tasks such as feeding and brushing pets give seniors more activity. All tasks involved in caring for pets involve exercising cognitive skills, which is important for Alzheimer’s patients. According to the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), people who own pets are more likely to interact socially with other people than people who do not take care of a pet.
Pets are a big responsibility, however. “Make sure that you’re ready for an animal,” advises Collins. Pets need to be fed, cleaned and walked, so you should talk to your family and friends before adopting one. The good news is many assisted living communities now allow pets, and some even encourage them. If having a pet is important to you, you can find communities that allow pets, or pet therapy programs.