ELDERLY people checking into nursing homes around the state are finding more than a clean bed, a friendly nurse and companionship. Dogs, cats, birds, fish and an occasional pig are also greeting them.
There’s a real trend toward pet-therapy programs for the elderly because it works. People need to be needed and animals need people
In facilities where pets are kept, there seems to be a homier and livelier atmosphere. Health care officials say that residents are happier and more productive, staff members are more relaxed and although pets place an additional burden on them, their jobs are actually easier because of the uplifted spirits of their patients. And the pets benefit from the constant attention.
Benefits of Pet Therapy
There have been hundreds of research articles published on the benefits of pet therapy for people within residential care. Here are a few of those benefits:
Multiple studies have cited benefits such as improved mood and more social interaction — notable benefits since people with dementia and some within residential care are at risk for developing depression, which can further compromise their functioning and quality of life.
One such study evaluated animal assisted therapy at an adult day care center for older adults with dementia. The results indicated that involving the people in activities with dogs decreased their feelings of anxiety and sadness and increased physical activity and positive emotions.
In a study published in 2008, psychologists observed a calming effect following pet therapy in a small sample of nursing home residents. Other studies have shown that animal-assisted therapy yields significantly lower blood pressure levels.
Decreased Behavioral Problems
Another study measured the effects of a resident dog, as opposed to a visiting dog, in a nursing home. The researchers found that after the addition of the dog to the Alzheimer’s unit, the residents’ challenging behaviors significantly decreased during the day.
One study placed aquariums in a facility and found that residents’ intake and weight increased. This decreased the need for nutritional supplements, which lowered costs for the facility.
Research has also revealed many benefits to pet therapy; some of which may include:
- Decreased blood pressure and stress
- Improved communication and reminiscence
- Many people who are normally unresponsive to other therapies may ‘brighten up’ and ‘chat’ with
- Pets may motivate and encourage the elderly to stay healthy and exercise, giving them a feeling
of being ‘needed’.
- Motor skills may improve with the assistance of an animal trained for pet therapy.
Types of Pet Therapy
Animal-assisted therapy runs the gamut and can include cats, bird aviaries, trained dogs and fish aquariums. Some nursing homes have animals that live at the facility, while others have people who bring animals in to visit regularly. Some communities also have programs where they’ll bring in animals from the local zoo and include an educational component.
Although most of the research on pet therapy has been conducted in facilities, it can also be used if someone with dementia is living at home. The presence of a dog or cat at home, for example, can provide some of the same benefits as noted above.
Finally, remember that animals used for pet therapy should be up-to-date on their shots, well-trained, and monitored to ensure everyone’s safety, as well as to minimize the exposure for people who have allergies or simply don’t care to interact with them.
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