We love our pets, and most of us couldn’t imagine life without them. However, being unable to care for their pets is a sad reality for many people in aged care, as residents often need to give up their pets when they make the move to assisted living.
Enter pet therapy – which involves older people interacting with pets or animals, with the effect of improving their physical, mental and social health and wellbeing. Pet therapy is rapidly gaining in popularity in aged care facilities, and it’s easy to see why.
Pet therapy has a huge range of benefits for older people, and can:
Bring comfort and joy to residents
There’s nothing quite like being able to pat, stroke and cuddle a cute, furry animal – it’s usually a very happy and joyful experience. Sadly, it’s one that many aged care residents often miss out on. Pet therapy can encourage positive attitudes and emotions in older people, and can bring a lot of comfort to the sense of loss often felt by former pet owners who have had to give up a beloved pet. Pets undoubtedly enhance our quality of life, and can make aged care residents feel happy, needed and comforted.
Reduce anxiety and depression
Being around animals can have a strong calming effect on aged care residents, and can very effectively reduce feelings of depression and anxiety for older people. The calming benefits of stroking pets are well known, but even just the presence of an animal can lift the spirits and boost morale. Older people often feel more engaged, energetic, enthusiastic and inspired after spending time with a pet – and all this helps them deal with stressful situations better.
Help combat loneliness
We all know that sometimes our beloved pets can be our best friends, and it’s more true than ever for older people. Pets are often extremely loving, loyal and affectionate, and are great companions as we get older. The unconditional love they offer can be just what’s needed to alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation in older people.
Encourage a higher level of interaction
Older people can sometimes be prone to withdrawing, but there’s nothing like the presence of a pet to draw people out of their shells and increase interaction. Pets are a great conversation starter, and have the unique ability to help people forget about themselves and focus on the animal. Having a pet around will often trigger discussions and conversations about the current pet, as well as pets owned in the past. Pets are a great way to encourage both more frequent and deeper interactions – between the older person and the pet, between the older person and staff and between older people themselves. Pets can break the ice and provide an ongoing topic of conversation that’s enjoyable to talk about – and we can really never get enough of that!
Provide physical benefits
Having pets around encourages older people to be more active. Carrying out all the daily chores of looking after a pet, as well as being obliged to walk it (if it’s a dog) disrupts a sedentary lifestyle and helps older people keep to a more regular active routine. And we all know the benefits of being and staying active as you age – it’s vitally important to good health, wellbeing and longevity. To be able to move around well as you age, you have to keep moving around throughout your life – and pets help older people do just that. In fact, studies have even shown that the presence of pets can help delay the ageing process!
Help reduce illness
Surprisingly, the presence of animals has some wonderful effects on the physical health of older people. Time spent with pets has been correlated to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, a reduced risk of heart disease, quicker recovery from illness, reduced medication intake and fewer visits to the doctor.
Many of us can fondly remember pets we had in the past, and interacting with pets can quickly bring back those memories for older people. Pet interactions can also help older people remember the way they used to be, and retain that sense of self for longer. For instance, spending time with a dog might help an older person who lived on a farm remember all the things they did there with their own working dog. Pets can be a great trigger for memories, a great catalyst for stories, and a great reminder of the useful life once led.
Help people with dementia
Even more than that, pets can provide great benefits for older people suffering from dementia. Pets can help with memory retention, mental stimulation and focus, and can increase feelings of peace and happiness. People with dementia generally show very positive reactions to pet therapy sessions. Pet therapy can improve emotional wellbeing, behavioural issues and even medical conditions! As well, it can reduce anxiety, improve social skills, verbal communication and self-esteem, and help dementia sufferers be more willing to exercise and take part in activities. The presence of pets can help mitigate the helplessness, anger and frustration often felt by dementia sufferers, and help more positive emotions come to the fore.
Pet therapy is ideal for residents of aged care facilities, and there’s so many ways to incorporate it. Whether through organised pet therapy, volunteers bringing their pets in for interactions, the facility adopting an animal to live there and interact with the residents, policies allowing residents to bring their own pets, or even using robotic pets – there are many options for getting started in pet therapy.
Here at Finley Regional Care, there are ways for family to safely bring pets in – see management for details.