How Pet Therapy Can Benefit Seniors

How Pet Therapy Can Benefit Seniors

When it comes to wellbeing and physical health, social interaction and companionship can go a long way for those aging in place. The past few years have seen a few revolutions in senior therapies, especially when it comes to pets and companions. Seniors may be interested in learning about developments in pet therapy and how the company of a pet can improve your day-to-day life. 

You might already be aware of therapy dogs and the services they provide to people with disabilities or emotional needs. In reality, the realm of therapy animals extends well past just dogs. In this article, we will talk about pet therapy, including how pet companions can benefit seniors and what types of therapy are available. We’ll also discuss how a medical alert system from Alert1 can enhance your sense of community and safety alongside your potential therapy companion. 

What Is Pet Therapy?

 

Pet therapy is a therapeutic practice that matches a person with a service animal. These animals typically have special training to help aid in a person’s healing or coping process for any number of medical conditions or traumatic experiences. In some cases, the service animal helps a person with a function or activity. Other times, the person benefits from the simple presence and interaction with a furry companion. Many humans have a natural inclination to connect with animals. Pet therapy uses this concept of the human-animal bond to create beneficial results from interactions. [i]

There are two types of animal therapy: animal-assisted therapy (AAT) and animal-assisted activities (AAA). People often confuse the two forms of therapy, so we will describe each. 

  • Animal-Assisted Therapy: AAT consists of regular, structured treatment activities with an animal and the treatment recipient. There are group and individual arrangements for AAT, depending on the treatment a patient needs. Typically, a patient using AAT does not care for the animal daily. Instead, a person might visit an AAT facility or therapy animals would visit a person. Examples of AAT include taking walks with a dog to improve a person’s ability to walk independently. Another example would be the inclusion of a pet in a person’s stroke recovery efforts by helping the patient complete simple tasks.

  • Animal-Assisted Activities: AAA is much more informal than AAT. Whereas AAT involves structure and goals with animal interaction, AAA simply creates the opportunity for seniors to interact with animals. People may receive many of the same benefits as AAT with AAA, but the interactions are not considered true “therapy.”  

Why Is Pet Therapy Good for Seniors?

 Pet therapy has numerous benefits for seniors that help improve their overall quality of life.[ii] For many seniors, daily life can be solitary and limited to the activities they feel safe doing. Pet therapy introduces the chance for seniors to increase their social interaction and gain comfort from the presence of animals. They also can derive emotional, physical, and mental improvements. Here’s why pet therapy can be good for seniors:

  • Some seniors have an increased risk of developing depression and low-self-esteem as they age. Animal interactions can factor into a treatment for seniors who may feel low or are lacking relationships in their daily life. Seniors can engage in a regular schedule of pet time to increase their socializing and make themselves happier. Plus, they can participate in group animal interaction sessions to meet other people, or perhaps simply play with the pets in a common environment. Even if a senior is not suffering from depression or loneliness, he/she can still be happy spending time with animals and improving their emotional health. 
  • Pet therapy can contribute to key physical health benefits for aging adults.[iii] Spending time with animals can lead to reduced blood pressure and a healthy heart rate for seniors. Many seniors develop high blood pressure as they age, so pet therapy may complement any prescribed medications or other treatments a person has. Aging adults who spend time with pets build a better response to stress and strengthen their cardiovascular system as a result. 
  • Interactions with pets keep seniors physically active and practicing important mobility and motor skills. Taking a dog on a walk can improve a senior’s stamina and strength while walking and thereby reduce the risk of falling. Regular movement with the assistance of an animal proves a great way for seniors to improve their physical abilities. 
  • Pet therapy can impact a senior’s mental wellbeing[iv] For those with dementia or other cognitive impairments, pet therapy provides mental stimulation during an interaction. The tactile nature of pet therapy creates a calming experience for dementia patients who may have a hard time speaking or are easily agitated. Pet therapy may help with many areas of a senior’s mental and emotional health.  

What Types of Therapy Animals Are Available?

Dogs and cats are the most common therapy animals.[v] They have similar abilities to connect with humans and have an easier time adapting to the environments in which they travel. Certain AAT or AAA programs may only have one type of animal which they bring to therapy sessions.

Almost any animal can provide the benefits of animal therapy. Birds, hamsters, horses, and goats are all good examples of other types of animals available for pet therapy. You will often see farms host events to give people the opportunity to interact with goats or other farm animals. Seniors interested in pet therapy should know their comfort level with animals and consider any potential allergies or other medical conditions that may impact the type of animal you can work with. 

What’s the Difference Between a Therapy Animal, a Service Animal, and an Emotional Support Animal?

Explaining the differences between therapy animals, service animals, and emotional support animals helps show the distinct function of each option. 

  • Therapy Animals: Therapy animals can be any type of animal. They have specific training to provide therapy for groups of people or individuals. The animals do not have the legal status of an animal who can enter any building or other establishment. We previously described some of the activities therapy animals help with. Overall, therapy animals can help patients recover from any number of medical conditions, and are often used in group sessions.
  • Service Animals: Service animals are highly trained dogs who assist a specific person with a medical condition or a disability. Only dogs can be certified service animals. Service animals are allowed by law to be with their human everywhere the human goes, even in places that do not allow pets or animals. Service dogs are working dogs, as opposed to a pet or companion animal. 
  • Emotional Support Animals People often confuse emotional support animals for service animals, but there are legal and functional distinctions.[vi] An emotional support animal is someone’s pet who provides comfort and companionship for that person. They do not have any specialized training and can be any type of animal. A medical professional must prescribe an emotional support animal under law. Emotional support animals do not have the same legal protections that service animals have. The support animals can only accompany a person where pets are allowed, and they are not allowed in buildings that restrict pets. 

How Might Robotic Pets Make a Difference?

As many seniors became isolated during the pandemic, an unlikely companion came to the rescue: robotic pets.[vii] Robotic pets serve as an alternative to a living pet while providing much of the same positive effects. These automated animals can sit in your lap and cuddle. 

Researchers have studied the impact of robotic pets on seniors’ wellbeing. One study concluded that robotic pets can help seniors living alone or who are less active find comfort and alleviate some symptoms of loneliness.[viii] Robotic pets have even more impactful results for seniors who have Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairment.[ix] The time spent engaging with the robotic pets helps seniors recall memories and keep their minds active. Robotic pets have been found to enhance the quality of life for the elderly.  

A Medical Alert System Can Support Your Sense of Protection and Community

We have discussed how pet therapy and robotic pets can bring seniors aging in place a sense of companionship and comfort. Another way to help seniors feel more confident in their daily life is with the help of a medical alert device. Alert1 has a great range of medical alarms to suit your individual needs. A medical alert device gives you access to immediate assistance in the moments you need it most. 

Alert1 offers in-home and on-the-go devices to keep you protected wherever you go. The alarm buttons are easy to use. You simply push the button when you need help. If you are prone to or at risk of falling, you can opt for a device with built-in fall detection technology which triggers an emergency call when its sensors detect a fall might have occurred. No matter your needs or lifestyle, there is a device for you. All command center operators are trained agents who can help connect you with the immediate assistance you need. There is never a charge for false alarm button pushes, unlike other medical alert companies. Alert1 is committed to finding the best device option for you and your lifestyle. Much like a pet can help you find comfort and security, a medical alert device can offer much peace of mind. 

 

 

[1] Johnson, Jon. 2020, Jul. 10. What to know about animal therapy. MedicalNewsToday.com. What to know about animal therapy.

[2] Wein, Harrison. 2018, Feb. The Power of Pets: Health Benefits of Human-Animal Interactions. National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Power of Pets: Health Benefits of Human-Animal Interactions.

[3] Gee, Nancy R., Mueller, Megan K., Curl, Angela L. 2017, Aug 21. Human-Animal Interaction and Older Adults: An Overview. Frontiers in Psychology. Human-Animal Interaction and Older Adults: An Overview.

[4]Sauer, Alissa. Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors. Senior Living Blog. Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors.

[5] Wood, Trina. 2019, Oct. 18. Why Therapy Cats are Just as Effective as Therapy Dogs. UC Davis Veterinary Medicine. Why Therapy Cats are Just as Effective as Therapy Dogs.

[6] Gibeault, Stephanie. 2021, Feb 24. Everything You Need to Know About Emotional Support Animals. American Kennel Club. Everything You Need to Know About Emotional Support Animals.

[7] Smith, Kelsie. 2020, Aug. 11. Lifelike robotic pets are helping isolated seniors avoid loneliness. CNN.com. Lifelike robotic pets are helping isolated seniors avoid loneliness.

[8] Hudson, Janella, et al. 2020, Aug. 13. Robotic Pet Use Among Community-Dwelling Older Adults. Journal of Gerontology. Robotic Pet Use Among Community-Dwelling Older Adults.

[9] Lowrey, Sassafras. 2020, Oct. 4. Robot Dogs Can Help Seniors Cope – Especially During Covid. Wired Magazine. Robot Dogs Can Help Seniors Cope – Especially During Covid.