Paws For Thought: Why Pet Therapy Is Good For Seniors

Paws for thoughts

Interacting with pets can have huge benefits for older Australians. Here’s why.

Many older Australian residents are living alone and feel isolated, which can lead to a decrease in quality of life. Pet therapy offers a unique solution that can help bring comfort, joy and companionship to elderly individuals who may otherwise be lonely.

In this article, we’ll explore everything about pet therapy, including the numerous physical and mental health benefits it can offer to seniors. Let’s take a closer look at this therapeutic practice.

The origins of pet therapy

The concept of pet therapy has been around since the mid-20th century and continues to grow in popularity around the world. Pet therapy – also known as animal-assisted therapy – involves guided animal interactions and is an increasingly popular form of holistic treatment.

The therapy allows seniors to interact with animals in a safe and nurturing environment, which has numerous positive effects, from decreasing stress levels and reducing feelings of anxiousness to boosting self-esteem and overall morale. As the furry four-legged team builds relationships with seniors, it can provide a sense of companionship that fills the void of isolation seniors often experience.

Many retirement homes and nursing facilities offer programs in which residents can interact with pets on site or participate in visits from special animal therapy teams. Whiddon, an aged-care provider which
operates services throughout NSW and Queensland, runs an animal-based wellbeing program called Creature Comforts. The aim of the program is to “improve overall wellbeing, reduce anxiety and depression, and increase social connection by creating opportunities for our residents to bond,” says a spokesperson.

The dogs used in the program are known as Chief Happiness Officers, and include Chappie, a cute-as a-button beagle who has made a significant impact on residents of one aged-care home. Rhonda, a resident there and a former dog trainer, says she has a new focus and her spirits have been raised since Chappie arrived. “Chappie has really given me a lift because I haven’t done any training for about two years as my health was fading and I couldn’t do it anymore,” she says. “He has brightened up my life no end.” Additionally, many local animal shelters have volunteers who have been trained to work with seniors. This allows seniors to enjoy the health benefits of pet therapy while eliminating the responsibility of pet ownership.

Why pet therapy is so good for us

In Australia, seniors everywhere are turning to pet therapy to reap a number of mental and physical health benefits. Research has shown that seniors who interact with animals experience decreased levels of stress and depression, improved immunity, lower blood pressure, increased ability to complete daily activities, improved communication abilities as well as enhanced quality of life. One of the main reasons for the latter could be attributed to the socialisation aspect – seniors can not only connect with a therapy pet but often form relationships with other seniors through animals.

While long-term care is important for seniors, initiatives such as pet therapy can greatly contribute to the physical, mental and emotional well-being of those living in Australia’s care facilities. Because seniors need care plans that cover all components of their physical and mental wellbeing, introducing them to pet therapy is an effective way to ensure they live healthier lives with assistance from companions that ease both pain and stress.

Three essential health factors

Pet therapy can bring seniors an array of physical benefits that have far-reaching implications for their overall health and wellbeing. Let’s have a look at why improving these health factors is so beneficial…

1. Lower blood pressure.

Keeping healthy blood pressure levels is both an achievable goal and an important
means of protecting overall health. High blood pressure affects seniors differently than younger people, so it is important to take extra steps to have it under control. In addition to living a healthier lifestyle by eating more vegetables and exercising more often, seniors should consider speaking with their healthcare providers about additional measures they can take to lower their blood pressure. With the right care plan that is tailored to their specific needs, seniors can help keep their blood pressure in check for years to come.

2. Improved cardiovascular health.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide. But there’s much you can do to improve your heart health. According to the Australian Heart Foundation, regular physical activity is essential.

Increasing your physical movement from as little as 10 minutes a day to the Australian Government’s recommended 30-45 minutes a day, five or more days of the week, can help reduce your risk of heart disease and heart attacks. Taking regular long walks with your pet therapy dog is one way of doing that.

3. Increased strength, mobility
and balance.

As we age, strength, mobility and balance can be affected, so seniors in Australia need to be aware that there are options available to decrease this decline and stay healthy longer. Strength-training exercises can help seniors improve their balance while regular aerobic activity increases mobility; both are critical requirements for seniors who want to remain active and independent members of their community. Integration of such activities into an older person’s life can have countless benefits including improved health and greater social interaction as well as a reduced risk of falls – all of which contribute to maintaining overall wellbeing.

The next steps

If you are a senior living in Australia looking for pet therapy to help improve your physical and mental wellbeing, contact your doctor or carer today to learn more about the different options available. Pet therapy is an excellent way to reduce stress, ease pain and enjoy a healthier quality of life.

Owning a pet has plenty of benefits, too

It’s not just pet therapy that has a multitude of benefits. Research shows that seniors who own pets experience lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improved cardiovascular health and increased energy levels, as well as better sleep quality – all essential to good physical health.

What’s more, having a companion animal encourages seniors to be more socially engaged and get out and about in the community. Research has even linked better recovery from some medical procedures with pet companionship. This is especially true for life-altering medical events such as surgery or hospitalisation.

While owning a pet can have many positive benefits, it is important to consider the potential risks involved. Ageing pets may require more care and attention than younger animals, and there may be safety concerns such as falls or injuries with an animal around. Additionally, seniors with allergies or asthma may be adversely affected by pets in the home.

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  1. I have just been assessed and approved to take one our standard poodles into our local ACH nursing home for weekly visits. She is a hit with the residents and staff. I am 73 and breed and show poodles. It is done through Caring Canine Companions in Adelaide.

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