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Blog Feature

By: Elizabeth Bemis on July 31st, 2013

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Seniors and Pets: The Benefits of Companionship

assisted living | 60-day stay trial | therapy dogs | senior living homes | seniors and pets | pet therapy | Aging & Caregiving

The benefits of pet companionship - united methodist homesPet therapy is a real health-promoting exercise for seniors. Those slobbering, furry animals, we call pets, can transform an individual’s sorrow into joy, right before your eyes. Pets are seen as loyal companions that do wonders for their owners’ well being. For this reason, many assisted living communities offer pet programs as part of their senior care services.

These programs help to provide meaningful interactions with pets, especially when seniors are unable to care for an animal on their own. Some nursing homes facilitate “guest appearances” of hypo-allergenic, cuddly kittens and dogs as part of their healing program.

Here are more benefits to having pets as companions.

Nine Health Benefits of Pet Companionship

Pet therapy may help…

Number 1:  Reduce Loneliness – Research shows that individuals who are considered shy, or who tend to be more reserved receive substantial benefit from having pets as companions. Because many individuals who are lonely are also not “social butterflies,” having a pet helps in bridging that gap of “feeling all alone.”

Number 2: Lower Anxiety and Pain– Pet therapy has been shown to calm moods, increase positive outlooks and even reduce pain.  Regular contact with a pet increases a feeling of satisfaction and promotes the release of nature’s own natural endorphins.  This is the hormone that acts as a pain-reliever, thereby reducing one’s dependency on pharmaceutical drugs.

Number 3: Decreases the Onset of Depression – Pet therapy is strongly associated with higher levels of contentment and appreciation for life, consequently, interaction with these furry friends can lessen the incidence of depression, which affects a large percentage of aging seniors.

Number 4: Lower Aggressive Tendencies in Dementia Patients –Pets provide mood-enhancing benefits to patients with mental disorders, which, in itself, is a testament that pets are indeed therapeutic in influencing human behavior.

Number 5: Increase Communication – Having a pet can often become a conversation starter, giving residents and caregivers added reasons to gather around for a chat. Dogs and cats often play the role of community mascots, increasing social interactions and contributing to a warm and friendly atmosphere in senior homes.

Number 6: Increase Laughter - The squeals of delight and laughter that accompanies pet visits in senior communities help demonstrate the impact these furry creatures have in boosting mood.

Number 7: Increase Physical Activity – Having a pet often encourages physical activity. Walking the dog and needing to take the cat outside, incite movement. Seniors who also romp with their pets and participate in feeding schedules automatically increase their level of exercise.

Number 8: Improve Vital Signs - Pet therapy has the ability to stimulate chemical chain reactions in the brain, lowering levels of stress inducing hormones – like cortisol. Simply petting and stroking a pet can bring immediate stress relief.  Pet interaction helps in dilating (widening/opening) blood vessels, reducing heart rate, blood pressure and overall improving cardiovascular system function. 

Number 9: Provide a Comfort System, Eases Grief – Sometimes pets are the only companions seniors may have. In this group, the positive effects of pet therapy is seen much more dramatically. Pets have the ability to brighten your day and seniors who are working through grief or loss are comforted by these loyal partners.

Perhaps the most profound impact on the elderly is that pets provide seniors not only with companionship, but also with the opportunity to give and receive affection, which is so vital to all human beings.

Key Takeaways:

  • Pet therapy is a real health-promoting exercise for seniors. These furry creatures can transform an individual’s sorrow into joy, right before your eyes.
  • Pets are seen as loyal companions that do wonders for their owner’s well-being.
  • Some nursing homes facilitate “guest appearances” of hypo-allergenic, cuddly kittens and dogs as part of their healing program.
  • Because many individuals who are lonely are also not “social butterflies,” having a pet helps in bridging that gap, reducing the feeling of “being all alone.”
  • Seniors who romp with their pets, walk their dogs and participate in feeding schedules automatically increase their level of physical exercise.
  • Pet therapy can stimulate chemical chain reactions in the brain, lowering levels of stress inducing hormones – like cortisol, reducing hypertension and improving the cardiovascular system function.
  • Pets provide seniors not only with companionship, but also with the opportunity to give and receive affection which is very important; perhaps this is the most profound impact on the elderly.

Senior Living Homes and Pets: 

At United Methodist Homes we look forward to spending time with our residents and their pets. When touring an assisted or independent living community make sure you ask their regulations regarding pets if it of importance to you.

To learn more about our United Methodist Homes communities please visit our website to learn more.

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About Elizabeth Bemis

In 1998, I drove past an assisted living community construction site, learned that it was part of United Methodist Homes and realized the next stop on my professional journey was to work for a mission driven organization. Soon after, I joined the team as Executive Director of our Middlewoods of Farmington community and later served as Regional Manager for the Middlewoods properties before accepting my current role as Vice President of Marketing, Promotions, and Assisted Living Operations. I enjoy spending time with my family, cooking, reading, walking, and love working alongside our staff, residents, and families to build strong communities that reflect the mission, vision, and values of United Methodist Homes.

Our Blog is a 2016 Platinum Generations Award Winner! The Generations Award is an annual international competition for excellence in senior marketing recognizing professionals who have communicated to the 50+ Mature Markets.