Pet Therapy for Seniors

As loved ones age, families worry about their physical and emotional needs.

Lack of companionship, isolation, and loneliness are challenges for older adults. Pets provide unconditional love and companionship for seniors, and they are also therapeutic. Pet therapy offers numerous emotional and physical benefits for elderly adults. Whether your loved one is living at home, in an assisted living facility or in nursing care, pet therapy can assist them with problems like loneliness, isolation, limited physical exercise, lack of intellectual stimulation and boredom.

Pet therapy is a therapeutic technique designed to improve the physical, cognitive, emotional and social skills of seniors through their interaction with animals. In most senior care settings, non-threatening animals like cats, dogs, rabbits or gerbils are used as therapy animals. Visitation and ownership therapies are the most common types of pet therapy for seniors. During visitation pet therapy, a therapy animal, usually a dog or cat visits a nursing care home or an assisted living facility and interacts with the residents. Seniors take turns grooming, feeding and petting the animal. Visitation pet therapy is beneficial for seniors who are unable to care for a pet because of an illness or live in a nursing facility that does not allow pets.

Unlike visitation therapy, ownership therapy involves owning a pet to experience the therapeutic benefits of interacting with animals. It is necessary to consider the animal’s care requirements and the physical and emotional limitations of an older adult when selecting a pet. Many senior care facilities do not allow residents to own pets. Therefore, it is advisable to ask about restrictions on pet ownership before purchasing or adopting a therapy animal. The benefits of pet therapy are numerous. By interacting with pets, seniors gain emotional support, and perhaps increased physical activity. A physician or eldercare consultant can assist you in determining how a pet therapy program can benefit the senior in your life.

Author:  Michelle Graham, CSA, Certified Senior Advisor, CIRS-A, CAP, Eldercare Consultant, CEO and Founder of Graham & Graham Eldercare Consultants LLC

Providing Guidance and Care Options for Families