Senior Living Care Blog

Therapeutic Animals for Seniors

Posted by Joe Gilmore on Nov 23, 2018 11:00:00 AM


Everyone knows that pets can provide a sense of joy and companionship to their owners, but for seniors that effect can even be more amplified. For than just companions, therapy dogs for seniors can help open door, prevent falls, signal help, detect seizures, encourage exercise and even calm PTSD in seniors who have been through traumatic experiences. Service dogs and other pets can help you live a healthier lifestyle all while giving an animal a loving home and family to live with.


Benefits of Getting a Pet

According to the Center for Disease Control, there have been studies that have shown that the presence of a pet can provide a number of biological health benefits. Some of the health benefits include:

  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Decreased cholesterol levels
  • Decreased triglyceride levels
  • Decreased feelings of loneliness

There are even more benefits from owning a pet if it helps you get out and exercise as well. Exercising with an animal helps seniors increase their speed and distance of walks, all good things for your heart and cardiovascular system. And if your starting out and your speed isn’t very fast, animals don’t complain, they don’t care as long as they get to be around you and doing an activity.


Getting out and about it one thing, but owning a pet also helps for social opportunities. Not only can they put you in a new environment to meet new people, they’re also great icebreakers that get people talking.


Owning a pet can also be helpful for mental health. Social creatures require attention and like to be around you, doing whatever you’re doing. Because they’re around you and you’re around them constantly, owning a pet can help eliminate or decrease feelings of loneliness and depression. A study from 2016, found that pets play a role in the daily management of long-term mental health problems.


“Pets should be considered a main rather than a marginal source of support in the management of long-term mental health problems, and this has implications for the planning and delivery of mental health services,” the study says.


Besides the biological and social benefits, for seniors and other subgroups there are a number of other advantages to owning a pet or service animal.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Service dogs can be trained to help those individuals who have suffered from a past trauma help them get through episodes of PTSD. This type of therapy dogs is trained to alleviate anxiety and distress by nudging or leaning on their owner and assisting in waking them up from nightmares. PTSD dogs can also help lead an individual to safety if they experience an episode or panic attack in an unsafe or crowded area.



Dogs that have been trained to respond to seizures react by alerting family members and nearby individuals by barking when they are having a seizure. They also learn to lie by their owner during a seizure to help prevent injuries. Some dogs even learn to put their body in between the seizing individual and the floor to break the fall at the onset of a seizure.



Mobility service dogs can help their owners move from place to place without having problems. Mobility dogs help with impaired balance and coordination they can also help individuals who use prosthetics or other assistive devices like wheelchairs gain more freedom.


However, it’s not just dogs that can help and provide support for seniors. For example, one study followed over 4000 cat owners over 10 years and found that owning a cat can reduce your risk of having a heart attack by nearly a third.


Pet therapy can help all individuals bet especially those that are suffering from something like dementia. For example, the use of nonverbal communication with an animal can help dealing with the boundaries of language and other problems that are common among patients with dementia.


While owning a pet isn’t a prescription for a clean bill of health with no problems down the line, there is evidence that indicates that they can help.



Picking Your Pet

A dog wearing glasses looking at a dog magazine

Before adopting a pet, you need to be sure that you are going to be able to provide the animal with a proper lifestyle and home. A few questions you can ask yourself include:

  • How long will this animal live?
  • How much exercise does this pet need?
  • How big will the animal become?
  • How much will it cost for veterinary care?
  • What type of habitat does this pet need to be healthy?


Finding where to get a pet will depend on if you need a service animal or just a general pet to keep company. If you are in need of a service dog, be sure to get in contact with one of the many organizations that provide them like Service Dogs for America or Freedom Service Dogs on how to proceed. Generally you will have to submit an application and be approved before you are able to pick out your service animal. There is normally a fee that comes with the dog that pays for the training the animal receives.


However, if you’re looking for a normal pet, there are a number of options. While you can always visit a breeder, adopting from an animal shelter would be less expensive and would provide a home to unwanted animal. Some shelters ever give reduced fees to individuals age 55 and older.


Whether it’s a dog, cat, bird, or something else, having a pet around can be a comforting and beneficial thing for everyone, including senior citizens.



What Now

If you’re looking for more senior living blogs and resources, make sure to read our informative blogs every week. They will provide valuable information and can educate you on topics related to senior living. If your thinking it may be time for your loved one to move into one of the best active retirement communities, give Landmark Senior Living a look.



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Topics: Senior Tips

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