Five benefits of pet therapy for older people

There are an estimated 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats owned in the United States, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). America is a nation of pet lovers and that love does not stop when a person enters long-term care. Aside from being cute and cuddly companions, man’s best friend may be just what the doctor ordered for some older people. Engaging with a dog or other pet can actually be so therapeutic that many long-term care facilities, such as ours, include pet therapy as a part of regular programs for residents.

At Capitol Hill Healthcare, we allow families and visitors to bring pets for visits with loved ones. In addition to individual pet visits, we place a great value on the power of engagement with animals. For our residents’ enjoyment we have an in-house fish aquarium and bird aviary. As one of our activities, we also take field trips to our local Humane Society to visit with different animals. Amaryllis Pearson, our recreation therapist, said pet therapy provides residents with affection and unconditional love. “It motivates [residents] and gives them an outlet,” Pearson stated. In addition to enjoyment, engaging with pets has several benefits that help improve overall quality of life.

  1. Help transition. Moving to a nursing home can be a difficult transition for some older people. It can be made harder by the thought of being separated from a beloved pet companion. Regular visits from a pet and loved ones can help make the move smoother and easier on the resident.
  2. Companionship. Pets provide an exchange of healing and unconditional love that has been proven to decrease loneliness and depression in older people.
  3. Calming effect. Spending time with a pet has positive effects on the mind and body. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Community Health Nursing found that spending time with dogs can reduce the heart rate and lower blood pressure. For people with cognitive problems, pets can assist in relieving symptoms of irritation, anxiety and agitation.
  4. Stimulation. Engaging with a pet is mentally stimulating, especially for older people with cognitive problems. Interacting with a pet is a social outlet for people who are withdrawn. It helps also stimulate the memory and gives older people a chance to reminisce about their pasts and animals they have owned.
  5. Sense of purpose and responsibility. Just like humans, animals have basic needs that they depend on humans to fulfill. Whether it’s a friendly scratch behind the ears, feeding, or a walk, pets need people to have a vested interest in them and their needs. Caring for a pet helps give older people structure and a sense of purpose.

To learn more about Capitol Hill’s pet visits and other activities and events, click here.

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