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Animals & Therapy

A New Wonder Drug?

Is it a shot? Is it a pill? No, it’s Wonder Dog! Pets are a powerful prescription for improving health, and more and more elders are reaping the benefits – either through adopting their own pets or from different forms of animal-assisted therapy and activities.

A Whole Menagerie of Health Benefits

Study after study reveals that animal companionship does wonders for a person’s quality and quantity of life. Mental and physical health benefits include:

  • lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • reduced anxiety
  • greater sense of purpose
  • lower triglyceride levels
  • increased activity and socialization
  • relief from depression and loneliness
  • a better overall sense of wellbeing

All this with little or no side effects. (Unless you count chewed up slippers and perhaps crowded couch syndrome…)

Loyal Service and Unconditional Love

If your parent or loved one has a disability such as blindness or impaired mobility, consider contacting an organization such as Guide Dogs for the Blind or Canine Companions. These highly trained dogs – often golden retrievers or Labradors, can make a remarkable difference in a person’s life – providing freedom, guidance, protection, and of course, companionship.

Pets can also help those suffering from cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s. Pet visits help decrease anxiety, even during the difficult evening hours. People with dementia often feel more comfortable communicating with animals than with humans. A pet won’t judge or complain about repeated stories or the wrong word choice. Animals also bring back happy memories of childhood pets. Some Alzheimer’s patients have even been taken off anti-anxiety meds after they began animal-assisted therapy (otherwise known as regular visits from Bruno).

Evidence in favor of animal-assisted therapy and activities has been so strong that many homes for the elderly have begun regular pet visitation days. If your parent or loved one lives in an assisted living or skilled nursing home, ask about these programs. Some of the more progressive homes have even begun to allow pets to live with their owners on the premises.

Read the Fine Paw Prints

Of course, pets aren’t for everyone. If your parents are afraid of animals, or just don’t like to be around them, then better skip the whole furry friend idea. Even if they are animal lovers, puppies and kittens can be a handful in the early months. Many seniors are adopting older pets who don’t need to be trained. The pet should have the right temperament; avoid aggressive or overly enthusiastic dogs or moody cats that might tend to hiss and scratch more than purr and cuddle. And though cats and dogs are the most common, other pets can also provide companionship and are used in therapeutic treatment, such as rabbits, guinea pigs, fish, birds, and even horses.