Man’s Best Friends: Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors

For many older adults, mobility limitations, health issues and low energy can keep them from the social engagement they once enjoyed. Especially in seniors who live alone, social isolation can lead to loneliness, depression and poor physical health. If you have an aging loved one who suffers from isolation, an animal companion could work wonders for their emotional and physical well-being.

“The research supporting pet therapy for seniors abounds,” says Linda Anderson CTRS, Director of Activities at Bryn Mawr Terrace, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Bryn Mawr, PA. “Pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, has been shown to benefit seniors by improving depression and anxiety symptoms and increasing self-care. Studies prove the remarkable benefits to heart health and mental well-being, but you don’t have to be a specialist to understand the power of unconditional love on seniors suffering from loneliness or depression.”

Proven Benefits of Pet Companionship

Research shows that owning a pet improves a senior’s overall quality of life by providing physical, emotional and social benefits. Even occasional interactions with animals in a long-term care setting can enhance residents’ mood and behavior. The Pets for the Elderly Foundation, a nationwide charity committed to connecting seniors with four-legged friends, has collected research on pet therapy for seniors. These studies discuss the physiological and psychological impact of animals on seniors’ quality of life.

Physical Benefits

  • Heart Health – Frequent interaction with a pet can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Improved Activity – Walking, grooming or playing with a pet increases the frequency of physical activity and exercise, which in turn has countless health benefits.
  • Healthy Behavior – Those who own a pet tend to take better care of themselves. Caring for a pet helps to develop a routine, encouraging owners to eat regularly or complete chores and other tasks.

Social Benefits

  • Increased Interaction – Walking a dog gets senior owners out of the house and increases their opportunities to socialize with neighbors.
  • Encourages Conversation – A pet is often a great conversation starter and often provides common ground with others, especially with fellow pet owners.
  • Stimulates Memory – Visiting with an animal can allow seniors to tap into memories of childhood pets and past experiences.
  • Involvement in Activities – Studies show that pet owners are less likely to dwell on the past and pursue current activities, leading to social bonds and interaction.

Emotional Benefits

  • Decreased Loneliness – Pets provide companionship, giving isolated seniors a source for affection, conversation and activity.
  • Stress Relief – Being with a pet increases levels of serotonin, the “feel good” hormone that relieves stress. It also provides physical contact, which helps to calm anxiety.
  • Better Self-Esteem – For seniors discouraged by their age, appearance or limited abilities, pets are welcome company, reminding seniors that they are still capable of being loved and needed.
  • Sense of Purpose – The company of an animal provides a reason to get up in the morning. Pets combat depression symptoms by eliminating feelings of worthlessness or helplessness. Knowing that they are loved and needed enhances seniors’ mental health.

Considerations for Senior Pet Ownership 

Getting a pet for your loved one can positively impact their well-being, but careful considerations are required before bringing an animal into their home. If you think your loved one would benefit from owning a pet, ask yourself these questions to help you make a wise decision:

  • What kind of pet would best suite my loved one? If your loved one has trouble walking, a cat might be a better choice than a dog. Fish and birds are also good options for seniors with extreme mobility limitations.
  • Can they take care of a pet now and in the future? Try to consider your loved one’s foreseeable future needs. For example, the possibility of moving to a senior living community could impact your decision.
  • Is my loved one an experienced owner? Taking on the responsibilities of owning a pet could be overwhelming for a senior who has never had one before. Also, if your loved one is resistant to change, bringing home a pet might be a bad idea.
  • Are finances an issue? Consider your loved one’s financial situation. Animal care can be expensive, and if your loved one is on a fixed income, owning a pet could cause financial burdens.
  • Does the pet have a good temperament? Animals have personalities just like humans. Do your research to find a pet whose personality fits well with your loved one’s. Shelter employees often evaluate their animals’ temperaments and can help connect you with the right one.
  • Could I adopt an animal in need? Older animals in shelters have a lower adoption rate than puppies or kittens and have a greater risk of being euthanized. Adopting an older pet for your loved one not only eliminates the stress and work of housetraining, but can save the life of a loving animal. Typically, older animals are calmer than young ones and can benefit from the constant companionship of a retired senior.

An Environment of Connection 

Even for seniors who can’t own a pet because they require the full-time care and support from an assisted living community or skilled nursing facility, they can still receive the benefits of pet therapy. Visiting with an animal in a long-term care setting still offers the positive emotional and social impacts of animal interaction. 

“At Bryn Mawr Terrace,” says Ms. Anderson, “families frequently bring in approved pets to visit with their loved ones. These animals provide joyful connections for our residents. The presence of a dog or cat in the room enhances moods and lifts spirits like nothing else can.”

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us in our comments section.

A Healthy Tradition of Care and Wellness

There are times when the challenges associated with advanced age, a prolonged illness or a chronic condition make 24-hour care and support a necessity. At Bryn Mawr Terrace, we’re always here for you and your family. Our compassionate, professional team treats our residents as family and respects each of them as individuals they are, all with their own unique life story. 

We understand that each one of our residents has unique needs and desires, so we deliver personalized care and services that are tailored to each individual. The amenities and activities offered within our community are designed to keep our residents happy, fulfilled and living well. From delicious dining to a variety of social programming, we offer a lifestyle that’s meant to be lived!

Located near Bryn Mawr Hospital, Bryn Mawr Terrace – part of Main Line Senior Care Alliance – has provided exceptional care and services to seniors and their families since 1966. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue. 

Today, Bryn Mawr Terrace serves as a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), offering a range of services – including short-term rehabilitationtraditional nursing careindependent living, personal carememory carerestorative care and respite care – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing. For more information on Bryn Mawr Terrace and our variety of needs-based lifestyle services, please call us at (610) 525-8300 or contact us online.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Bryn Mawr Terrace and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.

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