It's no secret that pets come with a range of benefits to your mental, emotional and physical health. After all, it's pretty hard not to smile and talk in a baby voice when your dog comes bounding up to you as soon as you walk in the door. But studies have also shown that when you have a pet as a source of companionship and comfort, they can help with issues such as depression, loneliness and anxiety.
Science may never be able to measure the amount of joy you feel due to the unconditional love of your furry friend. However, it can measure the effectiveness of pet therapy and its impact on the human mind. Read on to learn more about the wonders that pet therapy has to offer older adults.
Pet therapy refers to a variety of practices that involve relying on pets or other animals for help with mental health symptoms. New types of animal-assisted therapy have cropped up in recent years, with people of all ages and walks of life enjoying benefits from these practices. Pet therapy is becoming more common in assisted living communities, too, with pets and therapy animals providing a source of catharsis and enjoyment for residents in communities across the nation.
Animals used in pet therapy are always licensed and specially trained to interact with specific types of people. Often, therapy pets are large, friendly dogs like golden retrievers, as these kinds of dogs often have an energy that's simultaneously calming and excitable.
Have you ever noticed how intuitive pets can be? This is in part because they communicate and interact with their surroundings via pheromones. That sort of sixth sense can help pets seem to understand how people are feeling and respond to those emotional states in appropriate ways to provide comfort.
The bond that can result from this can become a source of immense peace and comfort in your daily life. Even something as simple as petting your dog or cat can assuage anxiety, relieve pain and even lower blood pressure.
If you’re already a pet owner, you might love having little conversations with your four-legged friend. Adults of any age can benefit from this companionship and having someone to share feelings with verbally. Talking things through with a pet ensures a safe space for verbal processing and can even help you practice communication — a potential benefit for older adults who are experiencing some cognitive dysfunction.
And for many older adults, having a pet provides an overall feeling of purpose. Some studies have shown it even increases mobility in older adults who experience difficulty getting out of bed in the morning or doing movement-oriented tasks alone.
The three main types of pet therapy are ownership, visitation and animal-assisted. Here's a closer look at the individual characteristics of each one.
True to its name, with this form of therapy, you own the pet involved. If you're personally interested in pet therapy and are physically able to care for a pet, ownership therapy may be your best option.
Visitation therapy is potentially the most common type of pet therapy. In this format, the pet visits people for a pre-ordained period of time. The pair may enjoy bonding activities such as going for a walk, a game of fetch or just a calm evening cuddling on the couch. In some cases, visitation therapy occurs in assisted living communities when therapy animals are brought to visit residents.
Animal-assisted therapy is a less common (and more intense) form of pet therapy used specifically by older adults in urgent need of drastic rehabilitation. These individuals are paired with highly sensitive animals in an attempt to help restore physical skills or independence.
Benefits of pet therapy include:
Whether it’s for companionship or rehabilitation, pets provide lots of value for people of all ages. And for older adults, pets can support continued mobility and activity, reduce loneliness and even help with memory care needs.
At Bethesda Gardens in Phoenix, we love seeing our residents outside soaking up some vitamin D with their pets. Within reason, pets are welcome in our community, which means your feline or canine companion can come along on your journey if you're considering a move to assisted living.