The Benefits of Pet Therapy for Aging Loved Ones
Having worked with seniors and people with disabilities for over fifteen years, and having been an animal lover all of my life, it’s fantastic that these two worlds collide in such an impactful way. There are so many benefits that animals bring to us, and today we’ll look at how they enhance the lives of our aging loved ones.
Aging is a part of life, although the effects of getting older aren’t usually something we look forward to. As we age, our minds and bodies change. Many older adults experience changes in mobility and face other health issues that can keep them from getting out and socializing the way they once did. And, of course, in recent months we have had increased isolation for society as a whole due to the impacts of COVID-19. Social isolation can be mentally taxing and lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and loneliness. These can have an impact on both mental health and physical health.
Evidence has shown that pet therapy benefits seniors by improving mood and decreasing anxiety.
What is “pet therapy”? The Mayo Clinic describes pet therapy as “a broad term that includes animal-assisted therapy and activities. Animals can help people recover from or better cope with health problems such as heart disease, cancer and mental health disorders”.
It turns out that giving and receiving love is literally good for your heart.
Here are some proven benefits of having a pet companion:
Improved Heart Health—Interaction with a pet can lower blood pressure and cholesterol which decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Increased Activity—Walking, grooming or playing with a pet increases the frequency of physical activity and exercise which has abundant health benefits.
Increased Healthy Behavior—Those who own a pet tend to take better care of themselves. Caring for a pet helps to develop a routine which encourages owners to eat regularly or complete chores and other tasks.
Decreased Loneliness—Taking a pet outside for walk or a bathroom break increases opportunities to socialize with neighbors. The companionship of a pet gives isolated seniors a source of frequent affection, interaction, touch and conversation.
Stress Relief—Being with a pet increases levels of serotonin, the “feel good” hormone that relieves stress. It also provides physical contact, which helps to calm anxiety.
Enhanced Self-Esteem—For seniors that are discouraged by their age, appearance or physical or mental limitations, pets can be a good reminder that they are still loved, valued and needed.
Heightened Sense of Purpose—A loved pet gives a reason to get up in the morning. This combats depression symptoms by reducing feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and loneliness.
If you’re considering getting a pet for yourself or a loved one, take some time to research and select an appropriate pet and breed. If the owner isn’t very mobile, then perhaps getting a cat vs. a dog may be a better fit. What does the financial situation look like? Pets require food, vet appointments and other maintenance. Do your research to find a pet whose age, size, energy level and personality are a good fit.
Could I adopt an animal in need? Yes! Older animals in shelters have a lower adoption rate than puppies or kittens and have a greater risk of being euthanized. Adopting an adult, healthy pet can eliminates the stress of training, match your energy level and save the life of an animal.
Here are a few local adoption centers to get you started:
Homeward Animal Shelter | Cats Cradle Shelter | Center for Avian Adoption, Rescue & Education | Minn-Kota Paaws | 4Luv of Dog Rescue
And, of course, any time you’re looking for a Pet Sitter, we’re here for you!