Animals can provide a calming effect for those patients under stress, anxious or depressed. Pet therapy is a mild form of therapy for seniors. If your senior loved one is looking for a pet companion or already has a fur-baby, there are many benefits pets can provide your senior loved one and we will be discussing this topic in this article.

Depending on the living arrangements, needs and capability of your loved one, there are a few options one must consider. Some nursing homes and assisted living facilities allow pets, while some do not, some will allow for pet visitation. If you are considering adopting or purchasing a pet for your senior loved one, wait until you have discussed with the resident facility so you can determine the best option for your loved one. Many times there are programs already in place in the facility that can include visiting with pets but without having to have the responsibility to care for them daily. Some options to look at are the following:

  • Visitation therapy involves therapy pets visiting seniors in a hospital, nursing homes, or center. This is one of the most common types of pet therapy as it allows seniors to experience the benefits of having pets around without the responsibility to maintain them. Cats and dogs are the most commonly used pets.
  • Animal-assisted therapy is used for those seniors needing more intensive therapy. The benefit is that the senior is paired with a highly sensitive animal as part of their rehabilitation.
  • Ownership therapy allows the senior to take full responsibility over their own pets. Before this type of pet therapy is allowed, the senior’s capabilities must first be assessed physically and psychologically and of course, be willing to take care of the pet.

Why is it a good option?

A change of life moving into an assisted living or nursing home is a very overwhelming experience. Many times mental health issues arise due to the loss of independence. You may see your loved one struggling with symptoms of grief, or bouts of anxiety and depression.

Research has shown that animals can provide mild therapeutic effects for those experiencing stress or stressful life events. Feeling a loss of independence is a normal occurrence when transitioning to a new assisted facility. This can cause a dip in self-esteem and if allowed to care for an animal even for a short period of time, an improvement in self-esteem has been seen including a sense of responsibility, purpose and compassion.

Taking care of another life helps to shift focus to the needs of the pet. This can help improve symptoms of depression from the lack of socialization. Many times, if seniors who are in care have a chronic illness they may fixate on their health or symptoms, which can worsen depression symptoms. By taking care of a pet, this can focus on a positive distraction and reduce stress. This can improve cognition, memory and focus to respond to their pets’ needs.

Pets provide unconditional love and companionship, which can reduce loneliness and even help the senior make friends with other seniors in care with pets. Building friendships are hard for some and having a pet can be an ice breaker to build a connection. Taking care of a pet can increase physical activity by walking, feeding and playing with their pet. This can help the senior to have purpose to maintain a healthy lifestyle, maintain a schedule and motivation to wake up every morning to take care of their beloved pet.

Be mindful that some seniors may not be physically capable to take care of an animal so please do not adopt or purchase a new pet for a senior who is unable to meet the needs of the pet. In addition, discuss with the facility to determine if a pet is allowed and what criteria is needed to house and care for the pet. Overall, the longer the resident stays in care, mental health symptoms can begin to emerge. Losing touch with family members or friends can lead to isolation and pets can help bring a new level of companionship, interaction and motivation to encourage the seniors to be more active in their daily routine and with others in care.