Pet therapy uses animals to offset emotional and physical issues to improve quality of life. Pets can be especially therapeutic for senior citizens who are experiencing depression, loneliness or declining health. Many senior living communities have begun to integrate pets through their animal assisted therapy programs and are allowing seniors to bring their companion animals with them due to these overwhelming benefits.

Pain Relief – Research has shown that just a few minutes of bonding with an animal releases endorphins in the brain, the body’s natural pain and stress relievers. A 2009 study by Loyola University showed that people who had joint replacement surgery needed half as much pain medication if pet therapy was part of their treatment. Arthritis sufferers, in general, were found to report less joint pain while receiving pet therapy, and migraine suffers showed a reduction in chronic pain.

Improved Physical Health – According to the Center for Disease Control, pet companionship can help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which may prevent heart disease and stroke. In fact, researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis concluded that elderly pet owners have better cardiovascular health and significantly lower systolic blood pressure (blood flow from the heart through the arteries) than non-pet owners. Additionally, taking care of a pet keeps seniors active, which promotes joint health and flexibility.

Improved Emotional Health – A research project published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society demonstrates how seniors who are pet owners are more socially active and better able to cope with daily stresses. The calming presence of a pet is especially helpful for those suffering from anxiety disorders or panic attacks. Attention from an animal can restore feelings of self-worth, which increases brain activity and can diminish the effects of depression and loneliness.

Alzheimer’s Support – A Purdue University study found that pets (specifically fish in aquariums) improved nutritional well-being among nursing home patients with Alzheimer’s. This study also indicates that pet therapy need not be limited to dogs and cats; the tranquil display of fish in an aquarium can have similarly salubrious effects.

Animals provide unconditional love to seniors. They are an additional source of healing and connection — and that promotes health and happiness. Our next article will talk more about how to decide if a pet is right for you and, if so, how to choose the right pet for you.

For more information on this or other topics of interest to seniors, please call Butler County Department on Aging at 775-0500.