Pets Are Great Therapy for Seniors

Animals and humans have been companions for centuries. We love them for their unconditional love and companionship; they love us for the security and love (and treats!) we provide. Studies prove that people who are emotionally attached to an animal are more relaxed and are better able to cope with stress. Bring meaning, fun and companionship to the senior in your life by advocating they bring a four-legged friend into their home! 

A Pooch With Purpose

Dogs, cats, birds— even reptiles— are common companion animals and can remove some of the loneliness that comes with growing old. There are many positive benefits that arise when animals are involved in our lives. Animals frequently are trained to be of service to a certain population, the understanding being that interaction between animals and people needing a lift provides numerous benefits. The elderly are one such population that benefits from interactions with animals. Specially trained therapy animals provide benefits that no medicine can deliver: companionship, love, and hope, among other things. 

Benefits of Being Around Animals

Dr. Andrew Weil, a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, notes that studies have documented the many benefits of being around animals. Dr. Weil notes that pet owners and those who are around animals have lower instances of loneliness. 

Some additional benefits seniors can enjoy with having a pet include:

  • Social engagement. If they aren't able to get around as easily as they did before, a dog or cat is a great way to engage and interact. Add a caregiver to the mix, and incorporate daily drives to the dog park, where interaction and commonality with other seniors are everywhere! 
  • It reduces depression. The physical and emotional challenges that come with aging can often by comforted by a pet. Studies have also shown having a pet can reduce depression,

A Healthy Relationship

Animals provide benefits well beyond the abstract. These companions also give numerous physiological benefits to those who are around them. The National Park Service (NPS), in its brochure “The Health Benefits of Companion Animals,” notes several of these health benefits. 

Among other benefits, therapy animals provide a “greater reduction of cardiovascular stress” in comparison to being with friends or spouses. In addition, they decrease pulse rates, raise skin temperature, and relax muscle tension in elderly people. The hormones associated with happiness and well-being, dopamine and endorphins, are enhanced when interactions with therapy animals are allowed. 

Still other studies, the NPS continues, show that therapy animals enhance immune functions, resulting in fewer allergies (yes, FEWER allergies!), protection against adult asthma, and less illness and lowered susceptibility to upper respiratory infections.

Old Feels New

But what are the effects from animal companions on our elderly population? What benefits can seniors derive from their presence? In a report chronicling the benefits of animals companions, details just how positive interactions between animals and senior can be. 

One analysis, conducted in 1990, evaluated 938 Medicare enrollees for one year.  The study showed that respondents who owned pets reported fewer doctor visits and less difficulty coping with stressful life-events than those who didn’t have companion animals. The benefits of pet ownership on human health and behavior were also shown in a one-year study in 1998 of 1,000 non-institutionalized adults over 65 years of age.” 

Pets bring us joy and laughter. They also bring us a sense of being needed, enabling us to feel important and wanted. Our well-being, both physically and mentally, benefits from these things that pets bring to the table. Therapy animals are also capable of enhancing our health. Our senior population benefits immensely from this interaction, and, in return, we benefit from taking care of those who first took care of us, and their animal friends.