How Therapy Pets Can Brighten a Senior’s Day

by Bethany
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There is no question that regular contact with animals is beneficial for humans. Studies show that animals provide many benefits for the body and mind. According to the CDC, having a pet can lower your blood pressure, cholesterol and feelings of loneliness. Owning a pet also increases your opportunities to get outdoors, exercise and socialize. For this reason, animals are being used more and more in therapeutic settings. Some are even being given specialized training to be a therapeutic companions for individuals with certain disabilities. Animals are being used in care facilities, schools and nursing homes to help individuals with stress, anxiety and depression. If you or someone you know suffers from any of these issues, perhaps therapy pets can be of value.

How Therapy Pets Can Brighten a Senior's Day

What Are Therapy Pets?

There are a number of different therapeutic uses and benefits associated with pets. The benefit the animal provides is dependent on how the animal is used and the type of therapy. For example, there are three types of therapy for which an animal can be used.

  • Visitation therapy is where the pet visits locations such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools. The residents, patients or students receive the benefits of the interaction with out the burden of caring for a pet.
  • Ownership therapy involves actually owning the pet and being responsible for its daily needs. The benefits of this type of therapy can be immeasurable. They can provide companionship and emotional support. If the human in question has a physical disability, he or she might consider a service animal which is trained to assist with basic tasks as opposed to a therapy pet which is trained to be a patient and supportive friend. Also, those considering this sort of therapy should carefully evaluate their ability to care for the daily needs of a pet.
  • Animal-assisted therapy is usually a more intense, often physical, therapy in which very sensitive animals are paired with human partners who are undergoing rehabilitation.

A dog may be chosen as a therapy animal if he displays a calm, gentle or affectionate demeanor. A therapy dog is trained and may be certified in providing affection and comfort to seniors, people in hospitals, schools, nursing homes and other such facilities. These are generally not the same as service dogs which can assist owners with daily essential tasks. Rather, these dogs provide emotional support. Sometimes, if the animal is owned by the patient in question, the animal’s daily care requirements can also provide the owner with a sense of purpose and help them to improve functionality. Dogs are a very popular therapy animal.

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Therapy Cats

Like therapy dogs, therapy cats are cats that are used in the treatment of humans. Often they are used in facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, group homes, schools and the like. They help to instill calm, promote relaxation and produce a sense of well-being for people suffering from anxiety and depression among other ailments. Therapy cats have been used with stroke victims, children with language or speech difficulties, those with autism, the elderly and many, many more. Simply allowing the contact associated with the cat sitting on a lap or bed and being stroked can prove to be of great benefit to people in institutional environments.

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Pet Companions

As mentioned above, not all therapy pets visit people in institutional environments. Some provide therapeutic benefits to their owners in an ownership therapy situation. They can help to alleviate loneliness and reduce ailments such as high blood pressure and anxiety just by being present. When humans interact with their pet companions by allowing the pet to sit on their lap and stroking the pet, the human is better able to reap these benefits. Caring for the pet also gives the owner the opportunity to engage in activity and regain deteriorated mobility. Often therapeutic pet companions are cats or dogs, but can also include guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens, horses and more.

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Provides Daily Purpose

Therapy pets can help provide purpose in the owner’s life in a number of ways. The owner must be functional enough to provide daily care for their companion. For a person who suffers from depression, or even certain physical ailments, just getting up in the morning can be a nearly insurmountable task. But when another creature is depending on them, they can be more motivated to get up and get moving. When you are in pain, whether mental or physical, having someone or something to think about other than yourself can help. The companionship that the animal provides is what promotes the bonding that provides the motivation to care for the animal. Your life has more purpose when you have someone to care for other than yourself.

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Provides Comfort When Alone

Pet companions are a great antidote to loneliness. While they may not necessarily be able to engage you in a rational discussion, they are less likely to annoy than some human companions. Sometimes all you need is the presence of another creature to alleviate loneliness and the stress that can be associated with it. If you are lonely, try stroking a cat or taking your dog for a walk. You may be surprised at how much better you feel.

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Seniors and Therapy Pets

Seniors are prone to many age-related difficulties such as decreased mobility, depression, anxiety, loneliness, loss of a sense of purpose. A companion pet can help to ease many of these. As discussed above, interaction with an animal can help to reduce things like blood pressure and anxiety. For this reason there are many programs that will bring therapy pets into nursing homes to interact with the seniors there. Sometimes the home will keep an animal or two for the residents. If that pet belongs to the senior, then caring for the pet can also help to restore a sense of daily purpose. A pet may be just the tonic needed to get them moving and engaged in life again. Interacting with animals has been shown to offer many therapeutic benefits. Therapy pets can help to reduce anxiety in everyone from hospital patients to school children to senior citizens. Owning a pet can also help to restore a sense of purpose if it has been lost. Therapy pets can be an important therapeutic resource.