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Pets can bring so much joy, companionship, happiness and sense of family. Not only do they provide all of these positive feelings, research has shown that pets have the ability to act as a form of therapy and improve health and general wellbeing. Especially as individuals enter the later stages of life, the need for companionship and comfort often becomes more prominent. Pet therapy in this instance has even more significance; with the simple act of sitting and petting an animal providing a sense of solace and support for elderly individuals. Dogs are often the most common animal used for pet therapy, however cats and even farm animals are also included!
Here are just a few of the reasons why pet therapy stands out as a practical and beneficial approach for seniors:
A primary benefit of pet therapy is the emotional impact it can have. Interacting with animals through playing, petting or even observing, triggers the release of oxytocin and serotonin (hormones that are associated with feelings of happiness). Many seniors are susceptible to experiencing depression due to loneliness or isolation, or they may find themselves feeling anxious or worried more often. Pets can alleviate this anxiety and worry, and help seniors to experience more positive emotions. They also provide a sense of companionship and trust, even in the absence of human interaction.
Pet therapy can also benefit cognition, improving things such as motor skills, joint movement, problem-solving skills and encouraging mental activity overall. In terms of mental benefits, pet therapy can also reduce negative behaviours such as anger, frustration, agitation, and a sense of helplessness that senior’s may experience.
Physical health benefits
Even just a short walk around the block with a dog can provide the much needed exercise that is beneficial for seniors to stay active and mobile. Whether it’s just a walk with a dog playing, feeding or brushing, interactions with animals can help to improve mobility and reflexes.
Increase communication and socialisation
Interacting with, and communicating with animals has shown to have psychological benefits and enhances communication skills among seniors. For many elderly individuals, verbal communication can prove challenging due to a variety of factors including hearing loss or cognitive decline. The presence of a pet allows for a comforting environment that encourages communication and at times allows individuals to express themselves more freely than with other humans.
Spending time with animals has even indicated fewer doctor and hospital visits, reduced medication intake and reduced blood pressure and cholesterol. Pet therapy is a proven method that encompasses a holistic and heart-warming approach to enhancing overall well-being and quality of life. The array of emotional, physical and social positive impacts it can have on a senior’s life, makes the companionship of animals a valuable addition to the other therapeutic interventions available. A furry four legged friend has the ability to bring so much joy, comfort, and value to the lives of the elderly.
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