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The Benefits of Pet Therapy at Senior Living Communities

Many senior living communities include pet therapy to improve the quality of life of their residents. Research shows pet therapy can help address some of the physical and emotional needs of older adults by improving sleep, reducing depression and enhancing mood.

What is Pet Therapy?

Also known as animal-assisted therapy, “pet therapy” is an umbrella term for programs that include positive interactions with animals as part of a therapy program. Research shows that pet therapy animals can help people recover from or cope with various health issues relatively common in older adults.

Why Do Senior Communities Provide Pet Therapy?

Texas assisted living and memory care communities offer pet therapy for a wide variety of reasons. Pets can also reduce boredom and encourage social interaction, for example, which provides emotional benefits to senior communities. Animals are also amusing, entertaining, and non-judgmental of people.

Benefits of Pet Therapy and Examples

There are several physical, cognitive, emotional and social benefits of pet therapy. Research shows pet therapy can lower anxiety, promote relaxation, reduce loneliness, and increase mental stimulation and even help people with Alzheimer’s recall memories. Assisted animal therapy can also have physical benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovascular health, diminishing overall physical pain, and even trigger the release of “feel good” chemicals in the brain.

Examples and Purposes of Assisted Living with Pets

Pet therapy focuses on programs that help older adults work towards specific therapeutic goals, such as improving balance, endurance, motor skills, range of motion, and even memory and cognitive skills.

Improve Balance

Certain pet-related activities can improve balance, as balance often deteriorates with age due to weakened muscles, changes in gait, and even drops in blood pressure. Poor balance is a serious problem for older adults, leading to severe falls and other accidents. Animal-assisted activities to improve balance include:

  • Walking a dog from a wheelchair, using a walker, or freestanding
  • Bending over to pick up balls or other toys
  • Filling and setting down a food dish or water bowl
  • Reaching from the left side, right side, or across the body to pet the animal

Improve Endurance

Specific programs can improve endurance. Pet therapy activities to improve endurance include:

  • Throwing a ball or toy while sitting or standing for extended periods
  • Long walks with a dog

Improve Motor Skills

Motor skills are activities that require movement. Healthcare professionals categorize motor skills into two groups: gross and fine. Gross motor skills use the large muscles of the arms, legs, and torso to perform activities such as walking, going up and down stairs, or swimming. Fine motor skills use the smaller muscles of the fingers and hands to pick up food utensils, for example, or to comb one’s hair. Pet therapy that can improve motor skills may involve:

  • Reaching for treats
  • Opening and closing the treat container
  • Working with knots, Velcro closures, buttons, snaps, buckles, or clips on a dog’s vest or a cat’s collar or other equipment
  • Putting and removing a vest or gear on the pet

Assisting in grooming activities by using brushes, spray bottles, towels, and more.

Improving Memory and Cognitive Skills

Memory and cognitive skills can decline over the years. Animal-assisted therapy for memory and cognitive skills may include:

  • Remembering the pet’s name or breed
  • Recalling the handler’s name
  • Giving basic commands to the dog

Improving Range of Motion

Range of motion is a term to describe how far someone can move a specific joint, such as an arm or leg joint. Activities that may improve range of motion include:

  • Throwing a ball, Frisbee or other toys
  • Grooming, brushing, and petting a therapy animal
  • Playing tug of war
  • Giving treats

Why is Pet Therapy So Beneficial to Seniors with Dementia?

Pet therapy provides unique benefits to older adults with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. People with dementia are at higher risk for developing depression, isolation, behavioral issues, and mood disorders. Pet therapy can help reduce feelings of anxiety, boost mood and improve social interactions.

Which type of pet Is Better for Therapy at Senior Living Communities?

Both dogs and cats are excellent at providing pet therapy for older adults, and each has its benefits.

Dogs for Pet Therapy

Dogs are energetic, friendly and engaging, for example, which makes them fun to be around. Many older adults love to throw a ball and watch as the dog brings it back, for example. Older adults can also benefit from the physical benefits of exercise while walking a dog or the therapeutic benefits of putting clothing on a dog.

Cats for Pet Therapy

While dogs usually come to mind when most people think about animal-assisted therapy, therapy cats provide exceptional value to older adults or when interacting with people with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia.

When it comes to pet therapy, felines can even be superior to dogs because cats require much less maintenance. Cats don’t need to go for walks or engage in other activities; they typically need only 20 to 30 minutes of playtime a day.

Cats are quiet, independent, and have long lifespans. Being around cats can also lower stress and anxiety, improve overall heart health, and reduce feelings of loneliness – the sound of a cat’s purr can even calm the nervous system and lower blood pressure.

Senior Living Community Fredericksburg, Texas

Pet therapy is more than petting a cat or playing with a dog – it can provide tangible benefits to older adults living in community settings. Including affectionate animals into the community, residents can bond with them, recall their memories of animals and pets throughout life, strengthen relationships, and build new connections.

Learn more about our Fredericksburg assisted living and memory care community by downloading our community guide.