Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy for Seniors with Mental Illness

Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy for Seniors with Mental Illness

By Brandon Butler

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There have been numerous studies centered on how keeping pets has mental and physical benefits for people, and most of these studies reveal that being a pet owner can truly help people stay healthy. A pet can also be a huge advantage in a home with a senior, particularly if the individual is suffering from a long-term mental condition. Animal-assisted therapy can work wonders for people with different health disorders, which is why it is becoming an increasingly popular trend in places like hospitals and assisted living facilities for the elderly. The following are some of the benefits of using pet therapy for senior people with mental illnesses:

  • Maintaining a daily routine

As most caregivers know, elderly people suffering from mental illnesses like dementia often have difficulties in performing their daily tasks. However, having a dog can change this as dogs require a regular schedule for feeding, exercising, and so on. Doing the same things with the pets every day, like walking your dog, can help seniors remember routines and thus adds structure to their lives, which keeps them calmer. This also boosts their self-esteem, trust, and mobility, making it easier to care for themselves. If, for some reason, a senior citizen can’t have a dog of their own, becoming a dog walker is a great option. Though it may not be best for those with dementia, for those with depression, dog walking will provide many of the same benefits that come with owning a dog while also boosting their income.

  • Reducing behavioral problems in Alzheimer’s patients

Seniors who have Alzheimer’s disease often have an inability to handle stress, which leads to several behavioral issues like emotional outbursts. One study concluded that such patients have reduced stress and fewer outbursts if there is a pet around them. Since dogs have the ability to soothe anxiety, petting or playing with them can reduce aggressive behavior in seniors. Also, dogs are good listeners and can provide the right kind of soothing in the form of nonverbal communication that helps Alzheimer’s patients stay balanced, calmer, and positive.

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  • Presenting seniors with a positive factor to focus on

Older adults often suffer from feelings of uselessness, despair, and lack of purpose—something that can change with animal-assisted therapy. Taking care of a pet involves a number of tasks, which gives accountability and purpose to a person’s life. This can help mental health patients perform daily tasks better and improve their cognitive skills. In fact, elderly schizophrenic patients were found to have higher levels of mobility, interpersonal contact, and self-care after visits from animal-assisted therapy at their living facilities.

  • Providing physical health benefits

Many elders who have recently lost a spouse or moved to a different living facility end up suffering from stress and depression, which keeps them from going outdoors or enjoying day-to-day life to the fullest. Animal-assisted therapy can be a big help in such situations as dogs encourage regular physical activity, helping seniors to stay fit. Exercising regularly and enjoying the outdoors can even boost a person’s appetite and social interactions, thus maintaining an overall sense of well-being.

  • Improving mood

Advancing age and loneliness often wreak havoc on a senior’s mood, which can lead to mental illnesses. It was found that gently stroking and playing with a pet can release many hormones related to a person’s mood, such as oxytocin, serotonin, and prolactin. Dogs also encourage laughter, playfulness, and bonding with others—all of which work towards keeping a senior’s mood upbeat and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Animal-assisted therapy using well-trained animals with the right temperament can provide happiness and stress relief to people suffering from mental illnesses, and give them something to look forward to while battling loneliness and health disorders. So if you have elderly parents or know someone who is fighting both advancing age and mental health issues, animal-assisted therapy can be a helpful measure. There are also group therapy sessions available that use pet therapy for seniors, in case adopting a pet for your home is not a feasible option. Happiness is a warm and cuddly puppy!

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