Across ages, cultures and empires throughout recorded history, the relationship between human beings and their pets has been a crucial part of life. Cats frequent ancient Egyptian art and mythology. In Homer’s The Odyssey (written in the 8th century B.C.), a poignant moment is created when Odysseus finally returns home to find his dog Argos waiting loyally for him after his 20-year journey.
In many ways, this ancient relationship continues today. When the family dog greets you at the door, you suddenly become the most important person in the world. Or perhaps your cat snuggles up against you and demands your attention. Whether you’re a dog person or a cat person, it’s no secret that human beings crave a sense of companionship and comfort.
Everybody loves having something to look forward to in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. Pets can play a massive role in families as both an object and a source of affection. For older adults struggling with memory loss, however, the bond between themselves and a pet can grow even deeper than the average pet owner’s. Here’s a look at what pet therapy is and how it can positively impact memory health.
Many forms of animal-assisted therapy are becoming more utilized in assisted living communities. Animals involved in pet therapy are licensed and specially trained to interact with specific types of people. Generally, the animals used most frequently are large, calm dogs such as Labrador retrievers.
Because pets often communicate through pheromones, they can instinctually discern whether their owner is upset or in pain. This kind of unspoken bond can be an incredibly powerful source of peace in your life. Even something as simple as petting your dog or cat can promote a feeling of calmness, alleviate anxiety, soothe pain and even lower blood pressure.
Impaired memory health can impede communication abilities; often, those who struggle with it find themselves agitated by these difficulties. If you’re already a pet owner, there’s a good chance that you talk to your pet regularly. Pets can offer a sense of relaxation to older adults and help them open up to others more easily.
Caring for a pet can also instill you with a sense of purpose and independence. Some studies have shown it even increases mobility in older adults. Sometimes, even the desire to play with your pet can become an impetus to get out of bed.
There are three main types of pet therapy available to older adults: ownership, visitation and animal-assisted.
With ownership therapy, the older adult does indeed own the pet. This is the ideal option for those actively able to care for a pet. This includes walking and exercising your pet and being able to afford veterinary care and grooming services.
The most common type of pet therapy, visitation therapy involves the pet visiting an older adult for a specific window of time at either their own home, an assisted living community or a rehabilitation center.
Animal-assisted therapy is a more intensive — and perhaps less common — form of pet therapy reserved specifically for older adults in need of extreme rehabilitation. These individuals are paired with highly sensitive animals in an attempt to restore physical skills or independence.
From mental to physical to emotional, there are several proven benefits of animal-assisted therapy that make it a fantastic treatment in myriad ways:
Additionally, pet therapy has been found to be extremely valuable in helping those with cancer, chronic conditions and memory loss. Studies have shown that pet owners visit the doctor less, take less medication, cope better with stress and recover from illnesses faster than those without animal companionship. One study even found that spending as little as 15 minutes with a pet can initiate hormonal changes in the brain by increasing serotonin levels.
Whether it’s for companionship and entertainment or security and warmth, pets have proven to be a fantastic tool in assisted living communities for promoting the health and well-being of residents. With the memory care solutions available at Autumn View Gardens, it’s not uncommon to see a resident enjoying time with a pet outside. We encourage loving companionship and engage in personalized, attentive care plans for those experiencing issues with memory loss.
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