Being around pets has been shown to have beneficial effects on people’s physical and mental well-being. For seniors who struggle with dementia, depression or other mental health issues, being able to spend time with a dog or cat can help improve their quality of life. While owning a pet usually isn’t possible for assisted living residents, staff can help them enjoy the benefits of being around animals by offering pet therapy. This involves making arrangements to have volunteers come in with specially trained therapy dogs to visit residents. These visits can help residents in the following ways.
Encouraging Social Interaction
Spending time with therapy dogs provides residents with a chance to become more social, which can help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Increased social interaction is also beneficial for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Therapy dogs give residents the opportunity to interact with others that they normally wouldn't have. Sometimes, this simply means petting and talking to the dogs. At other times, residents might end up chatting with staff or other residents while visiting with the dogs.
Being around therapy dogs can lower stress in assisted living residents by stimulating the production of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which can have calming effects. Interacting with dogs can help lower agitation in those with dementia and improve the moods of those with depression. Lower stress levels can, in turn, help ease the symptoms of mental health issues and improve the overall emotional well-being of residents.
Improving Physical Health
Visiting with therapy dogs also helps residents in terms of their overall physical health. The calming effects that these dogs have can lower blood pressure levels and heart rate and improve cardiovascular function. In some cases, residents are able to take therapy dogs for short walks, leading to increased physical activity in those who might not have a chance to exercise often.
Seniors who have depression, dementia or other mental health issues benefit from staying busy and involved in activities. For those who are reluctant to join in regular social activities, games or art activities at assisted living facilities, having the chance to spend time with therapy dogs provides a good alternative. Pet therapy gives residents a simple yet effective way to keep their minds active and focused on something positive, whether they spend visits petting dogs, talking to or about them or walking around with them.