Pet Therapy and Aging

Pet Therapy and Aging

Pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy, is a form of therapy that involves a “guided interaction” with an animal in order to relieve stress and improve health.[1] Pet therapy usually involves spending time with dogs or cats, but other animals can be used (like horses, guinea pigs, etc.). Pet therapy, in a formal sense, is guided, administered, and monitored in a controlled setting. You can usually get referred to pet therapy locations by a medical professional, nursing homes, and the like. But the therapeutic benefits of pets are still possible within the household on a day to day basis. That is to say, if you own a pet, you can still benefit from the positive consequences of pet therapy in your own home.

As people age, they often encounter health problems that alter the previously normal aspects of their life. As a result, emotional and mental distress can be a common symptom among elderly individuals. Pet therapy is one way to help aging loved ones find happiness and emotional comfort. Consider these beneficial aspects of pet therapy:

(1) Increased levels of happiness and reduced stress: On average, interactions between humans and a well-trained animal are less stressful than certain human to human interactions. This is because certain social expectations disappear when you interact with an animal. For example, your cat or dog is not judging you for anything while you play with him or her. These low stress interactions can help aging loved ones reduce their levels of anxiety, depression, and stress while increasing their happiness levels.

(2) Mental stimulation: Going to pet therapy can provide mental stimulation because of the multiple steps it takes to engage in pet therapy to begin with. For example, visiting a doctor, communicating with pet therapy specialists, and interacting with a pet all require different levels of cognitive energy and mental processing. Additionally, owning a pet can help one plan and think critically, since owning a pet usually forces people to think about how to best care for it, which takes planning skills. Aging individuals, like all people, can benefit from mental stimulation, especially those who are living with degenerative neurological disorders.

(3) Physical benefits: Pets can also help move your body in beneficial ways. For example, interacting with a pet indoors can encourage you to bend at the waist or kneel down when you go to pet your animal. Owning an active animal, like a dog, requires you to go out on frequent walks since going outside is when dogs need to use the bathroom and when they usually get beneficial exercise.

Most of all, owning a pet helps get rid of loneliness since an animal can provide you with additional company. This can especially be the case for those living in Assisted Living Facilities, since many people room by themselves. If you have any additional questions about how pet therapy can benefit you or an aging loved one, please call ElderCare at Home at 888-285-0093 or visit our website.

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