Assisted living for seniors with pet therapy helps tackle depression and mood disorders

By: Emily Lunardo | Mental Health | Friday, December 04, 2015 - 01:00 PM

Senior woman and dog

Pet therapy for seniors in assisted living can help with depression and mood disorders. Pet therapy is a form of therapy that utilizes animals to help individuals cope with health problems. Pet therapy can involve just about any animal – although cats and dogs are most common – and can be beneficial for recovery from heart disease, cancer and mental health disorders.

Animal-assisted activities are another form of pet therapy, creating comfort and companionship for those who may be living alone or in nursing homes.

Pet therapy aims to boost the spirits of those who are ill or lonely by bringing animals to individuals in need; it has been shown that animals are beneficial during recovery because they boost mood and energy levels. Additional benefits of pet therapy include lowering blood pressure and stress, which is optimal for overall good health.

The benefits of pets and animal-assisted therapy on the health of seniors: Study

benefits of pets and animal-assisted therapyThere have been numerous studies that have found animal-assisted therapy to be beneficial for the health of seniors. The largest area of study has been pet therapy and its ability to improve mental health.

One study, which used either a bird or a plant, showed small improvements in behavior when introduced to the bird. The participants – 144 individuals in Italy – were either exposed to a canary, a plant or neither. Those assigned to either the bird or the plant were given care instructions and had to take care of what they had for three months. Those participants who cared for the canary had higher scores on psychological symptom testing by the end of the study period compared to the two other groups.

In an alternative study, a dementia unit for U.S. veterans used a pet dog for socialization. The patients exhibited a larger amount of social behaviors, such as smiling or speaking when the dog was present compared to when the dog was not around, revealing that a pet can have positive effects on cognition as well.

Pet therapy’s impact on senior living

Young man walking his dog on the beachOwning a pet when you’re a senior can help lower blood pressure, reduce stress and even boost social interaction and physical activity. Whether a person lives on their own or in a group/nursing home, owning a pet can offer a wide variety of health benefits.

Dr. Jay P. Granat, psychotherapist, said, “Dogs – and other pets – live very much in the here and now. They don’t worry about tomorrow. And tomorrow can be very scary for an older person. By having an animal with that sense of now, it tends to rub off on people.”

Owning a pet can help improve cognitive ability, mental health and even slow down other ailments as well. Pets offer unconditional love and companionship, so even if it’s difficult for a senior to get out of the house, they don’t have to feel alone when a pet is around.

Furthermore, when a senior decides to get a pet, it is also beneficial to the animal; they are adopted from shelters and into loving homes where they are loved and cared for.

Pet therapy and mental health

Pet therapy and mental healthPet therapy can be effective at improving mental health and treating mental disorders, including depression, autism, substance abuse and dementia. Animals are accepting and non-judgmental, creating a positive environment that is good for those with a mental disorder, and it can also increase the number and frequency of interactions between the patient and the animal.

Depending on the mental disorder, the patient may find it difficult to open up to doctors, family or friends, but with a pet they feel safe and trusting, so they may be more open to them. Therefore, pet-therapy can help boost self-esteem, reduce stress, and improve mood and communication skills.

Benefits of animal-assisted therapy

Benefits of animal-assisted therapySo far we have listed many benefits of pet-assisted therapy, and below they are compiled into one list to summarize.

  • Pets provide unconditional love
  • They boost physical activity
  • They offer companionship
  • They increase social interaction
  • They improve motor skills
  • Improve balance
  • Increase focus and attention
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Reduce anxiety, grief and isolation
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Reduce depression
  • Reduce risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Increase trust and empathy
  • Create greater self-control
  • Enhance problem solving skills
  • Reduce need for medication
  • Improve social skills

As you can see, owning a pet or going through animal-assisted therapy poses many benefits for seniors and sick people alike.

How to determine if you should own a pet

Owning a pet isn’t for everyone, so it’s important to consider and ask yourself these important questions prior to heading out and getting an animal.

  • Do you have any pet allergies?
  • Are you set in your ways?
  • Have you had a pet before?
  • Do you have any disabilities that would make it difficult or impossible to care for the animal?
  • Do you need pet therapy?
  • Is the pet the right age? Should you adopt a baby animal or an older one? Younger animals require more energy.
  • Does the pet have a good temperament?
  • Is the pet healthy?
  • Should you have one pet or two?
  • Are finances an issue?

Answering the above questions can help you decide if being a pet owner is the right decision for you and your health.

Related Reading:

Seniors may benefit from owning a pet

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A dog is truly a man’s best friend, but not only for their loyalty. The majority of American’s own a pet, but if you are amongst the 40 percent who do not, you may want to reconsider – a pet may not only warm your heart, but may actually help to protect it as well. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in America and 11.5 percent of Americans are currently diagnosed with it. Continue reading…


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