What is animal-assisted therapy and what are the benefits for seniors?

If you’re a pet owner, you might have perked up as you initially read that term. Pets have a way of making us happy no matter what day you’ve had or what mood you’re in. That could be the reason why two-thirds of all US households and almost half of elderly individuals own a pet. Substantial scientific research has shown that pets have the ability to not only make us happier, but healthier.

That might explain why the use of pets – from dogs and cats to rabbits and birds – has been introduced in hospitals, nursing homes, and even at-home visits for elderly individuals.
What is pet therapy?

It’s a general term, but pet therapy has been broken down into two types – animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activity. Animal-assisted therapy has become an increasingly popular form of healing, using dogs and other animals to help people manage or improve their health problems such as heart disease and cancer. On the other hand, animal-assisted activities have less of a specific purpose and are used to provide relaxation and joy to loved ones.

What’s great about these visits is that they’re not just for your loved one. Family members and friends who join in on the pet visits will typically reap some of the benefits too!
What are some of the benefits of pet therapy?

One of the first studies on pet therapy dates back to 1980, when it was found that heart attack patients who had owned pets lived longer than those who didn’t. Pet therapy, and pets in general, have also proven to do the following:

Decrease stress
Reduce heart rate
Lower anxiety levels, which in turn decreases the onset or severity of stress
Diminish feelings loneliness and depression
Improve cardiovascular health
Encourage social interactions

Another early study, from 1984, found that the simple action of petting a dog could reduce blood pressure.
Pet therapy and more physiological benefits

Whether your senior is petting a dog or watching a fish in an aquarium, any type of interaction with a pet has proven to deliver cardiovascular benefits. Examples of these benefits include:

Increased skin temperature
Reduced pulse rate
Reduced levels of cortisol, a stress hormone
Decreased muscle tension

Growing older can create a sense of loneliness and depression that has many health risks. That’s why it’s so important for families and home healthcare aides to create a therapeutic and fun environment for their seniors. Therapies such as music and exercise can be extremely beneficial, but there are few things that can help people cope with their feelings quite like the touch of a pet.

If an elderly loved one isn’t able to care for a pet full time, family members can improve the quality of their senior’s life and health by scheduling animal-assisted therapy or animal-assisted activities. And when family members can’t be around to facilitate the activity, home healthcare professionals – like the team at FirstLantic – can take over.

We have been the go-to choice for helping elderly individuals at home in South Florida for over 17 years. We are proud home healthcare providers for Palm Beach, Broward, Martin, Indian River, and St. Lucie Counties, and we are always looking for new ways to improve the lives of seniors. If you or your loved one is in need of a home health aide, call us at 877.618.3624 or fill out our online form.