Talk with any of the Healthy Lifestyles Directors at our senior living communities, and they will tell you how popular four-legged visitors are. Furry or feathered friends can help with everything from overcoming depression to decreasing anxiety. So much so that pet therapy has become a routine part of care in settings ranging from assisted living communities and hospitals to hospice.
If your senior loved one lives alone and you have been considering finding a pet to provide companionship, this is a great time to do it. November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month. An older pet can be the ideal solution for seniors who might not be able to manage the high energy level of a puppy or kitten.
The Benefits of Having a Pet
Most people intuitively know that having a pet around helps you feel more upbeat and positive. But a study by The Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia documents just how much difference having a pet around can make.
They studied over 6000 patients during their trial. What they found was that participants who had a pet had lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and a lower risk for heart attack. Researchers believe the simple act of petting an animal’s fur calms the mind and leads to improved health.
A separate research project published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society demonstrates how seniors who are pet owners are more physically and socially active and that they are better able to cope with life’s daily stresses.
Pet Therapy and Alzheimer’s Disease
The benefits of pet therapy, also known as animal assisted therapy, for people living with Alzheimer’s disease are even greater. They have been shown to help improve agitation, pacing, anxiety and confusion. Some experts believe pets can be one of the best methods of managing the difficulties associated with Sundowner’s Syndrome. Pets communicate with those living with Alzheimer’s disease on a non-verbal level. That connection helps to improve their feelings of self-worth, including those whose disease has progressed.
Even having a friend with fins can calm those with Alzheimer’s disease. One of the challenges Alzheimer’s caregivers often face is getting their loved one to sit long enough to eat. A Purdue University study followed Alzheimer’s patients who had a brightly colored aquarium placed in the dining room during meal times. In this study, participants appeared to enjoy the fish enough to relax and eat more of their meal.