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Service Dogs & Animals: How They Help & Benefit Seniors

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Service Dogs & Animals: How They Help & Benefit Seniors
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Service Dogs & Animals: How They Help & Benefit Seniors

August 18, 2021

For elderly family members, helping them stay as safe, comfortable and independent as possible is always a priority. While choosing the right assisted living community is important, so is exploring the additional health benefits of pets, service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs for seniors.

an elderly woman with a service dog

What Is a Service Animal?

A service animal is a trained animal, most often a dog, that helps people with mobility issues, mental disabilities, medical conditions and more navigate their daily life in a more positive way. For people starting to explore the possibility of service animals for the elderly, the first question on their minds is often, “are there service dogs for the elderly?” The answer is yes. Most service dogs for the elderly are trained to assist with specific tasks, and many are trained exclusively for the needs of their human partners. This includes tasks like:

  • Picking things up
  • Helping seniors get up or sit down
  • Monitoring for warning signs of health issues like low blood sugar or seizures
  • Helping alert people to visitors and sudden sounds

To make sure each person experiences the full benefits of owning a service dog, the dogs are matched to their humans based on personality and their physical ability to perform the types of tasks they’re expected to help with. This can mean anything from fetching shoes and opening doors to grabbing the phone when it rings and helping seniors get in and out of chairs, beds and use mobility aids. 

When Is a Service Animal the Right Choice?

Ultimately, every elderly person’s needs will be different but to qualify for a service dog, your loved one must have a physical disability, a diagnosed illness or a documented disorder. They must also be able to give commands to the service dog on their own and should have a letter from their doctor recommending a service dog.

If your loved one does not meet the criteria or doesn’t truly need a service animal, an emotional support animal may be a better choice.

How to Get Service Dogs for Seniors

To qualify for service dogs for the elderly, your loved one must satisfy certain requirements. These include:

  • Having a documented medical condition or disorder
  • Getting a letter of recommendation from their physician
  • Having the ability to give basic commands
  • Having the finances needed to provide for veterinary care, food and supplies
  • Being willing and able to participate in the service animal’s training

There are professional non-profit and for-profit organizations throughout the country that train service dogs for senior citizens. When researching service animal organizations, ask about the training process, the types of assistance training they specialize in and the cost. Ask for references and speak to people who have worked with the agencies before you make your choice of provider.

Getting a service dog for a senior citizen takes time. If you and your loved one think that a service dog or an assistance dog is something that would benefit their lives, start looking into the process as soon as you can. Often, there will be a waiting list for an available animal.

One of the biggest benefits of owning a service dog is that they’re permitted to go wherever your loved one goes. This includes restaurants, medical facilities, shopping centers and anywhere inside their assisted living facility. At Elmcroft, we understand that service dogs for senior citizens do far more than just keep them company and always welcome service animals.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal is similar to a service animal, but they offer emotional benefits rather than physical assistance. Instead of helping seniors and those with disabilities with basic tasks, emotional support animals help them regulate their moods and encourage happier interactions with others.

The primary purpose of an emotional support animal is companionship. Some emotional support animals may be cross-trained to perform basic tasks and respond to certain commands, but it is not their main job. 

When Is an Emotional Support Animal the Right Choice?

One of the biggest benefits of emotional support animals for seniors is they can help your loved one better manage their moods, stay positive and foster stronger connections with others.

Emotional support animals and service animals for elderly individuals provide different types of services. If your loved one struggles to perform basic tasks like getting dressed, a service animal may be a good fit. But if your loved one is unable to manage basic commands or primarily struggles with their emotions, an emotional support animal will likely be a better choice. 

How to Get Emotional Support Animal

The process for getting an emotional support animal is much less strict. Rather than meeting with your loved one’s general practitioner and documenting their physical ailments, you’ll need to work with a mental health specialist. They’ll assess your loved one’s mental state and determine if an emotional support animal may be a good fit for their needs.

A senior’s current pet can be certified as an emotional support animal, or you can adopt an animal that suits your loved one’s needs. The key is acknowledging if your loved one can properly care for the animal before adopting.

What Are Therapy Animals?

If your loved one doesn’t need an emotional support animal every day, they can still get the animal interaction they need through exposure to therapy animals. Therapy animals are trained dogs, cats and, sometimes horses, that come to your loved one. They’re particularly calm and well-mannered and won’t scratch, hurt or otherwise distress your loved one. Pet therapy for Alzheimer’s patients and seniors struggling with depression is linked with many benefits and can give your loved one a bright point in their day to look forward to.

Keep in mind that emotional support animals and therapy animals are not treated the same as assistance dogs and other service animals. These animals are not trained to perform a specific task necessary for your loved one’s physical comfort and health, so therapy dogs for seniors are not permitted in stores, movie theaters, restaurants or other restricted facilities. 

How Does Animal Therapy Help the Elderly

Animal therapy can help seniors stay more active, whether they’re working with an assistance dog or interacting with a community pet in their assisted living community. These engagements can make them feel less lonely and studies have shown that individuals with pets often maintain lower blood pressure, experience less stress and enjoy a higher quality of health as they age. 

Elmcroft Is a Pet-Friendly Environment

At Elmcroft, we understand the important role animals play in our residents’ lives. They put smiles on their faces and make every day just a bit brighter. It’s why we have community animals that live on-site and interact with our residents throughout the day. If your loved one has expressed interest in having a pet, but is unable to care for one themselves, they’ll still be able to love on a furry friend without the responsibility of pet ownership. Our staff takes care of our community pets to ensure that everyone stays safe and healthy.

If you’re looking for a safe, welcoming environment for your loved one that embraces and understands the mental and physical benefits pets offer, look no further than Elmcroft. Contact our team to schedule a tour or to learn more about our wonderful communities. 

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