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The Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors

Walker Methodist | May 21, 2019

older couple sitting outside and playing with small dog on their lapsSnuggling with a furry friend can make any day a little better, but did you know it has actual health benefits? Multiple studies have linked household pets with improved mental health, including helping with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and more. The same stress-reducing mental health benefits can also help to improve a person’s physical health.

For that reason, it’s no surprise that Walker Methodist and other senior living communities incorporate pet therapy into our offerings. Pet therapy can bring a variety of benefits to older adults, including giving them something to be excited about each day. Below are some of the biggest benefits of animal or pet therapy.

How Pet Therapy Works

Pet therapy works by utilizing the human-pet bond, which you likely know well if you’ve ever had a pet. Although pets seem to be a more integral part of the family than ever, pet therapy actually has a long history. It began more than a century ago when Florence Nightingale noticed that chronically ill patients showed improvement when given the chance to interact with animals.

With healthcare-provided pet therapy, a professional animal handler usually brings the pet to the location and supervises the interactions. Pets are carefully screened beforehand to ensure they’re disease-free and well trained, and they’re generally certified by a sponsoring organization. Animals are specifically chosen for the environment they’re going into, based on the stated needs of the healthcare provider.

Pet Therapy and Mental Health

Interaction with pets has been linked to an increase in the release of endorphins, similar to that seen after a workout. Opioid medications also release endorphins, along with bringing a tendency for addiction and dangerous side effects. Studies have found that the simple act of petting an animal causes a person to relax, which makes it very beneficial to those suffering from anxiety and stress.

Older adults especially benefit from the comfort and companionship a pet can bring. Even fixed pet therapy sessions can serve as a fun activity that enhances their regular routine. Perhaps most importantly, though, is the benefits pet therapy can bring to memory recall and sequencing of recalled events. In fact, time with pets has been linked to an improvement in the overall well-being of those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Pet Therapy and Physical Health

The relaxation effects of pet therapy can also help older adults suffering from various physical conditions. Those include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Pain

For older adults who have difficulty relaxing during exercise, pet therapy can help them, and being more active has multiple health benefits. In a group environment, it brings community members together, helping them become more social, which also has mental and physical health ramifications.

Pet therapy has positive mental and physical health benefits for people of all ages. For older adults, though, it can be especially beneficial. Pet therapy is one of Walker Methodist’s specialties, along with other stress-relieving options such as raised gardens and spiritual care. Get in touch with Walker Methodist today to learn more about how their members benefit from pet therapy.

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