For some people, pets are more than just animals. They’re life companions that provide unconditional love and comfort. They offer significant health benefits to their owners, especially the elderly with dementia. Frequent contact with pets has been shown to improve a person’s cognitive abilities, enhance their mood, and boost feelings of interest and enthusiasm.

Pets play an important role in a nursing home like Homestyle Aged Care that provides pet therapy for seniors. Numerous studies reveal that pets offer a unique intervention between the residents and uplift the atmosphere of the nursing home altogether. Today we’ll be discussing what pet therapy is all about and how it can prove beneficial to seniors who live in nursing homes.

What is pet therapy?

Pet therapy is about a guided interaction between a person and an animal with the goal of providing a positive interaction. It is considered a form of assisted care in nursing homes and can vary depending on the needs of the elderly. Some of the most common examples of pet therapy are:

  • Animal-assisted therapy – Residents of nursing homes are paired with a trained animal to accompany them throughout their therapy. This example of pet therapy is recommended for individuals who require an intensive rehab regimen.
  • Visitation therapy – The pets visit the elderly in nursing homes and hospitals. It allows the residents to enjoy the presence of the animals without the added responsibility of looking after them.
  • Ownership therapy – A form of pet therapy where the residents take full responsibility of the pets. The physiological and psychological capabilities of the person will be evaluated before granting this therapy to see if they are compatible with living with the pet.

What are the benefits of pet therapy?

There are plenty of advantages to undergoing pet therapy. Aside from providing the residents with a reliable companion, they can enjoy a whole host of benefits such as:

  1. Improved self-esteem

While staying at a nursing home, elderly people can be vulnerable to developing low self-esteem. This is particularly true for seniors who’ve grown accustomed to living with their family at home. In place of their families and friends are caregivers and nurses where it can make them feel sad from time to time.

Introducing a bubbly pet into their lives can help tremendously in helping them improve their self-esteem. Pets can give the elderly a renewed purpose and inspiration by interacting with the animals and reduce the feelings of loneliness.

  1. Helps shift their focus

Residents who’ve spent quite a long time in a nursing home are susceptible to feeling down and depressed due to lack of social interaction. They may spend their entire day wondering how their loved ones are doing and perhaps even long for their presence. By having a pet companion at their side, it helps shift their focus towards more positive thoughts.

Pets can serve as a healthy distraction for seniors by giving them meaningful interaction. They can also help lessen the patient’s stress levels by diverting their attention away from their worries and concerns.

  1. Increased physical activity

Pets are active creatures and they need to be walked, fed, and played with. These things can help boost the physical activity of the elderly residents and stimulate both their minds and bodies. If they’re undergoing any exercise programs, pets can be incorporated into their routines to make their workouts more fun and exciting.

A brisk walk with the pet can significantly reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and loneliness.

How to introduce a pet into nursing homes

While most seniors are delighted by the presence of pets, not everyone welcomes the idea of being surrounded by animals. Thus, it’s crucial to discuss pet therapy with the residents first before a pet is introduced to the facility. The nurses and caregivers should be willing to shoulder the responsibility of looking after the pets and ensuring the animals and the residents coexist positively.

Before introducing a pet into a nursing home, here are a few things worth considering:

  1. Introduce the right pets. Animals have different energy levels and so do the elderly. A young dog is more suited to a resident with high activity levels while an indoor cat may be suited to those who have less energy and prefer less physical activities.
  2. Consult the relatives of the residents. Ask them if they are okay with the idea of visiting with a pet and have their loved ones undergo pet therapy.
  3. Ask the residents if they have allergies pertaining to pets. The last thing you want is to trigger an allergy while the elders are interacting with the animals.
  4. Hire a pet therapist from a professional company to provide animal-assisted therapy to the residents.

Pet therapy has been something many nursing homes such as Homestyle Aged Care have started to adapt because of its myriad of benefits. Having pets around can help improve the residents’ quality of life and provide them with a more fulfilling and meaningful time inside the facility.

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