Posted: May 6, 2021

Health & Wellness

Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors

Research indicates spending that as little as 15 minutes with an animal can reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Pets provide comfort, companionship, and increased opportunities for exercise and socialization to people of all ages. Pet therapy for seniors has been shown to boost mood and increase senior’s socialization skills. Because of the proven benefits of pet therapy, many senior living communities like Walnut Crossing are embracing pet therapy as a part of the successful aging journey for residents.

What is Pet Therapy?

Pet therapy is also known as Animal Assisted Therapy. The goal of pet therapy is to use animals to interact with seniors to improve their physical and emotional health. The term Animal Assisted Therapy is used to refer to therapy that helps people recover or rehabilitate from a specific illness or injury. The more common form of pet therapy is visitation therapy where a person or organization brings an animal into a home or senior living community for a short time. Pet therapy programs that do outreach in senior living communities provide opportunities for older adults to reap the benefits of having a pet, without the responsibility of ownership.

Pet therapy providers use all kinds of animals. Dogs and cats are the most common, but miniature horses, birds, small animals like guinea pigs – even fish can be used in pet therapy.

Pets Reduce Stress and Lower Blood Pressure

Simply touching an animal can result in lower stress levels. Studies have shown that bonding with an animal lowers levels of cortisol, a stress-the inducing hormone, and increases production of serotonin, a feel-good hormone. Frequent pet therapy can lower blood pressure and may improve cholesterol levels. Some studies correlate longevity and better heart health with long-term pet interaction, specifically with dogs, which may be due to seniors with pets remaining more active and mobile.

Activities like feeding, grooming, and walking pets help seniors with mobility and give them a sense of purpose. Simply spending time stroking the fur of a feline or having a conversation with a puppy can boost the mood of a someone who might be feeling lonely or isolated.

Social Benefits of Pet Companionship

Routine exposure to animals through pet therapy can boost mood and improve the social skills of seniors, particularly those who are isolated at home. Animals provide affection and a listening ear that doesn’t judge. Spending time with a pet provides an opportunity to interact and socialize, not only with the animal but with others in a group therapy setting. For seniors who might struggle with self-esteem, spending time with a pet can remind them that they are capable of being loved and needed.

Some older adults living in a senior living community may experience difficulty adjusting to their new home, and pet therapy can provide a meaningful way for residents to feel connected and foster belonging. At Walnut Crossing, we believe every successful aging journey is unique and we strive to support the individual interests of residents. Read more about our Rhythms Life Enrichment Program here.

Pet Therapy and Dementia 

For seniors living with dementia, visiting with a pet can allow them to tap into childhood memories or past experiences with pets. If they are having difficulties communicating, the presence of an animal can be soothing and sometimes help them articulate needs. The presence of pets can help reduce anxiety, irritability, depression, and loneliness. Pet therapy can also be a tool to help with evening periods of increased agitation like sundown syndrome. Read more about dementia sleep disturbances.

Pet Therapy in Assisted Living

Because pet therapy benefits seniors by reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, boosting mood, and improving social skills, many assisted living communities, like Walnut Crossing, welcome the opportunity for residents to experience pet therapy. Because residents living in assisted living need support with some of the tasks of daily living, they may not be able to adequately care for a pet. Feeding, grooming, walking, and caring for an animal can become increasingly difficult as we age, but caring professionals in an assisted living community can provide that support. If you or a loved one is ready for assisted living, consider choosing an assisted living community that provides access to animal companionship through a pet therapy program. 

When choosing a senior living community, there are financial, organizational, and emotional considerations to reflect on. At Walnut Crossing, our caring team is here to support you every step of the way. Contact us to learn more or schedule a tour today.

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A Neighborhood of Cappella Living Solutions