April 1, 2024

5 Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors

Pet therapy describes a variety of therapeutic methods involving animals to provide positive outcomes for participants. This creates a bond between the participant and the animal while providing comfort alongside other therapeutic benefits. It can range from formal tasks guided by a therapist to casual visitation therapy where participants simply play with animals. Learn more about how pet therapy can enhance the lives of seniors. 

Benefits of Pet Therapy

Interacting with animals offers emotional, mental and physical benefits for older adults. Formal pet therapy often involves guided tasks led by an occupational therapist or another trained professional, while less formal options might simply involve older adults petting and interacting with animals. Beyond the simple joy that pets can bring to people of all ages, the following points explain how pets can help people manage a variety of illnesses or conditions.

Decreased Anxiety

Animals often help people feel happier. Time spent with pets can release endorphins, which are chemicals in your brain that improve mood. The interactions can reduce stress and anxiety to help participants feel more relaxed. This can be particularly beneficial for older adults who have unique stressors, such as health conditions, reduced mobility or the loss of friends and loved ones. Pet therapy might be used during periods of increased stress, such as during recovery from surgery, or regularly to keep overall stress levels under control. 

Engaging with animals can also help you feel more in control of your life. It might help you overcome feelings of vulnerability, uneasiness or worry. Pet therapy enables older adults to feel in control when working with the animal, giving them a sense of accomplishment and importance. This is especially true with well-trained animals that participate in pet therapy regularly and exhibit calm, controlled behavior.

Increased Mental Activity

Spending time with animals engages the brain to support your cognitive health. You might figure out how to interact with the animals positively, such as learning how to get a cat to purr or a dog to play. Teaching them new tricks also engages the mind through problem-solving. You might need to repeat the trick multiple times to teach the animal.

Pet therapy may also support memory recall. Older adults might recall events that happened during pet therapy and tell others about them. They might also work to remember tricks and commands to help direct an animal. 

Increased Communication

Communication can be more difficult as some adults age. Memory impairment can make it more challenging to communicate clearly. Practicing communication in a relaxed, practical setting can help maintain or improve these skills in seniors. 

Animals encourage older adults to talk even though they don’t communicate back in English. It’s natural to talk to animals. Some types of pet therapy might encourage seniors to share their feelings with animals. This often has a soothing, healing effect for adults who feel lonely or sad. It can also help them process difficult situations they face in life. 

These experiences can also encourage participants to talk to other humans more. They might talk about the interactions and experiences they have during pet therapy. Pet handlers and therapists involved in the process often engage participants in conversation. Talking about what the animal is doing or offering guidance on how to interact with the animal also provides more communication practice. 

Decreased Loneliness

Of adults 65 and older, almost a quarter are socially isolated, while a third of adults 45 and older feel lonely. Loneliness and social isolation often stem from living alone, having health conditions or having decreased mobility. Being lonely or socially isolated can increase your chances of dementia, depression and other conditions. 

Interactions with animals can help older adults feel more connected and less lonely. You often feel an emotional bond with the animals, which can combat loneliness. Animals offer companionship with fewer complexities than human interactions, which can make them feel easier. Pet therapy typically involves several other people, such as the pet handler and a therapist. This provides human interactions for older adults who might have limited connections with others. 

Reduced Depression

While not always a normal part of aging, depression can affect older adults at a higher rate. Having chronic conditions can increase your risk of depression. Among older adults, 80% have at least one chronic condition. Finding ways to prevent or decrease feelings of depression can help minimize the symptoms.

Interacting with pets is one way to ease depression with the release of endorphins and boost in overall mood. It can also cut down on negative emotions, such as anger and irritation. This improvement in mood can reduce additional complications or more severe symptoms. 

Visit Cedarfield

At Cedarfield, we’re not only a pet-friendly community, but we offer pet therapy to our residents! To discover more about our pet therapy program, learn about our cottages and apartments, or schedule a visit, contact us or call 804-474-8788!