Dogs and cats have impacted the quality of human life for centuries, and today the benefit of owning a pet are well-documented. Even seniors are healthier and happier when they regularly interact with affectionate animals. Animal Assisted Therapy, also known as pet therapy, is a service that brings people and trained animals together to interact under the guidance of a handler. When seniors have physical issues or mental health problems, or just want to feel less lonely, they can turn to pet therapy to live happier and healthier lives.
It’s common to confuse Animal Assisted Therapy with senior care activities involving animals. In the former, a doctor or therapist works with a senior as well as an animal handler and their animal to set goals and work together to achieve them. The goals might be physical, such as to increase joint movement, boost motor skills, exercise and even just to get up and move. Mental health goals might include lessening depression or anxiety, coping with grief or pain management.
Animal activities are slightly different, and may involve exposure to animals that a group brings in to the home or a senior care center to be cuddled. The goals of animal activities are generally more along the lines of reducing boredom, providing comfort, socialization, lifting spirits and releasing endorphins from the pleasure center of the brain.
While most pet therapy animals are dogs and cats, there are a number of different animals that are used. Among the most popular are rabbits, horses, snakes, guinea pigs and birds. Animals and handlers must go through a training and certification process in order to participate in an animal assisted therapy program. If an elderly person has an allergic reaction to certain pet dander, they should probably steer clear of some animals, but otherwise, animal assistance therapy is appropriate for just about anyone.
So who is pet therapy most appropriate for?
Animal assistance therapy is commonly used for physical rehabilitation because they are more motivated to do their exercises when working with an animal. This means seniors that are recovering from a stroke, partial paralysis, or other illness where occupational therapy is needed should look at pet therapy. Other situations where pet therapy is more common is during chemotherapy treatments, long hospitalizations, and mental health treatments like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Also, many clinics and hospitals are starting to incorporate pet therapy before or during medical procedures to reduce anxiety.
If elderly loved ones are at the point where they need regular help from a family caregiver and a senior care assistant, they might also benefit from some kind of pet therapy. Family caregivers can talk to their loved one’s physician or physical therapist about pet therapy programs in the area and whether or not they would be beneficial. At the very least, pet therapy programs can provide seniors with some interest and excitement during the week as they enjoy the company of companions with fur and feathers for a change.
If you have a loved one who could benefit from senior care in Orinda, CA, contact the caregivers at A Better Living Home Care Agency. We help seniors and their families with many levels of home care. Call 925-566-2366 for more information.