The companionship a pet offers can be an invaluable gift for people of any age, but especially for seniors. Spending time with a pet is an incredibly rewarding experience, one that can bring comfort, combat isolation and loneliness, and even help to reduce stress and promote overall wellness. If you’ve ever cuddled a dog or cat, it’s not hard to imagine the profound effect these fluffy creatures can have on humans. When it comes to Pet Therapy for seniors, the benefits are exponential, and that is why it’s an integral part of our Memory Care program here at Riverwood Senior Living.
What is Pet Therapy?
If you’ve ever loved a dog of your own or felt the humming purr of a cat under your hand as you pet its soft fur, you know the incredible effect animals can have on humans. Pet therapy is a guided interaction between a person and a trained animal intended to help that person cope with a health problem, mental disorder, or other issues. Also referred to as animal-assisted therapy or AAT, pet therapy can help patients achieve various treatment goals. Pet therapy has proven specifically useful for seniors battling the effects of memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s Disease. This pet therapy for seniors brings a lot of notable benefits.
Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors and Other Patients
Intentional interactions with a friendly pet can help with many physical and mental issues. Time with a pet can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health, but it can also release endorphins that help calm us while relieving stress, and improving the overall psychological state.
Other potential benefits include:
- Reducing anxiety
- Decreasing loneliness or isolation
- Providing cognitive stimulation
- Mitigating depression
- Improving sense of empathy
- Improving sense of self-esteem and confidence
Pet Therapy for Seniors with Dementia
Seniors with dementia and other memory loss disorders can greatly benefit from pet therapy or animal-assisted therapy or activities. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, animal-assisted interactions can improve self-confidence and self-esteem in people with dementia, while also helping to encourage independence. These animal-assisted activities also serve as a time of joy, and an exciting part of someone’s day. This energetic experience can be a great source of love and laughter.
A study by BMC Psychiatry found that strategic AAT or pet therapy for seniors with dementia can provide the following benefits:
- Can contribute to slightly higher physical activity
- Can relieve effects of sundown syndrome which manifests itself in increased agitation, restlessness, aggressive behavior, and disorientation
- Can improve short term memory and communication skills
- Can enhance eating habits
- Can reduce feelings of loneliness
Visitation Pet Therapy
Visitation therapy is the most common type of pet therapy for seniors. This type involves animals visiting the community for planned animal-assisted activities. The seniors interact with highly sensitive animals, helping to promote a variety of skills and behaviors while helping to boost confidence. Some studies have shown that even just spending 15 minutes with an animal can initiate changes in the brain, decreasing the production of the stress hormone cortisol, and increasing serotonin levels.
Pet Therapy for Seniors at Riverwood Senior Living
Our memory care program at Riverwood Senior Living utilizes pet therapy and animal-assisted activities as a component of care for residents with dementia. This creates opportunities for meaningful connections to be formed, and serves as a wholly enriching experience for all involved. We have seen the positive impact this component of therapy has on our residents, and the difference it makes in their lives.
If you have any questions about pet therapy or our memory care offerings at Regency, contact our team today or schedule a tour.