Physical and Mental Benefits of Animal Therapy for Seniors

Scientists for many years have proven the benefits of animal therapy for seniors. Animal therapy refers to the use of animals to help people cope with physical and mental problems. Depending on how the treatment works, people may choose different animals, including dogs, horses, and birds. In today’s article of Living Maples Mag, we will talk about animal therapy’s effects on seniors’ well-being and health.

We can do many things in old age to improve our quality of life and improve our health. Regular exercise, proper diet and routine medical examinations are the most important and well-known ways to ensure good health in the golden years of life. However, recent research shows that maintaining social relationships is also vital for seniors who want to stay mentally and physically healthy. 

For many of us, spending time with those we love enhances our quality of life and stimulates and strengthens our minds and bodies in many ways. “Those we love” include not only people in our family and friends but also the pets and animals we encounter every day since they have a positive impact on our lives. Research by scientists has proven that controlled contact with animals is a great way to improve health in old age.

What is Animal Therapy for Seniors?

Animal therapy, also known as Animal Assisted Therapy, is a method that uses animals to interact with seniors for a variety of reasons to improve their overall health and quality of life.

Studies show that spending just 15 minutes with a dog, cat or other pet can increase our brain activity and serotonin levels during old age. Serotonin is known as the “feel-good hormone” and plays an essential role in the body’s function and our experiences of positive emotions.

A senior on wheelchair and his dog on his lap

Our communication with animals through animal therapy has both mental and physical benefits, which are described below.

Read More: Benefits of Keeping Pets for Seniors

Mental Benefits of Animal Therapy for Seniors

To express the mental benefits of animal therapy for us, we need to look at the feeling that most animals give us to understand why it is good for our brains to be exposed to them. Simply put, animals make us happy. 

Old age usually comes with diminished cognitive abilities daily. The good news is that exposure to animals can help better brain functioning and lead to emotional stability, reduced anxiety, and depression.

Caring for animals such as cats or dogs can also help increase our self-confidence and self-esteem and strengthen our ability to feel useful and responsible about something.

Similarly, routine exposure to animals can help increase our social skills. A good point about animals is that they can listen to us without judgment, and it means that we can share our inner feelings with them. This is helpful for those who want to share ideas that are not comfortable to share with our loved ones.

For seniors with difficulty in using language, animals can be soothing. They can even help them talk about different issues and express their opinions.

As said earlier, exposure to animals in intimate and controlled environments increases serotonin’s secretion which helps with stress reduction. Stress is another issue that seniors experience as they age. Animal therapy may improve many important markers of stress by:

  • Decreasing anxiety and stress
  • Decreasing perceptions of pain
  • Reducing feelings of fear or worry
  • Increasing feelings of social support
  • Providing motivation, stimulation, and focus

Furthermore, studies also show that animal therapy works best for seniors with the following issues:

  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Schizophrenia

Animal therapy is also a great way to keep seniors at the peak of their physical health.

Physical Benefits of Animal Therapy for Seniors

In addition to the many benefits that animals can have on seniors’ minds, they can also contribute to physical health. A 2014 study found that seniors with heart disease who have pets live longer than those who do not.

Activities such as walking with dogs provide the physical training needed for us. It also contributes to heart health, improved mobility and an overall healthy lifestyle.

Having something to caress and touch can soothe and relax us. Relaxation reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and stabilizes the heart rate.

a senior woman holding a dog on her lap

Activities such as feeding and grooming the animal can increase our physical abilities and help us become more active. It is precisely why most animal therapy programs for seniors include activities such as feeding and grooming the animal.

There are places where people can feed and play with animals and enjoy the benefits of animal therapy. Hence, seniors can have access to animals without the extra hassle and responsibility that pet ownership comes with.

Final Words

Dogs and cats help us feel happier and less stressed. Studies show that when you caress your pet for 15 minutes, your brain releases joy hormones. These hormones include prolactin, oxytocin, and serotonin, which play important roles in your happiness.

Hence, we can conclude that animals can be a perfect way to achieve better mental and physical health. 

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2 years ago

The unconditional love that animals offer can be healing for you. Believe me! A few years ago, I was in the hospital after knee surgery. One day, we had visitation therapy. In that, animals visited elders in hospitals. It was so sweet, and this allowed me to enjoy having pets around without the responsibility animals require.

2 years ago

Can a guinea pig act as an emotional support animal? 
The thing is that I have a guinea pig, and I believe that having it around me can relieve my stress!

Reply to  Owen
2 years ago

I think guinea pigs make great emotional support animals. They are easy to care for and have unique personalities. They are friendly and can recognize their owners.
My grandma lives with us, and since she doesn’t get along with my mother very well, they argue a lot. If I see that my mom is still in a bad mood after an argument, I just pick up our guinea pig and hand him to my mother. She almost immediately forgets what she was grumpy about and starts petting and talking to him in a high-pitched voice.

2 years ago

Parrots are excellent pets and support animals for people suffering from mental health disorders. It is an absolute pleasure to interact with them due to their ability to mimic human speech, and some evidence suggests that they can detect their owners’ emotional states.

1 year ago

I hope that more people will learn about the benefits of animal therapy and consider incorporating it into their own lives.

1 year ago

I was particularly interested in learning how animal therapy can improve cognitive function and memory, which is especially important as we age. It’s incredible to think that something as simple as spending time with a friendly animal can profoundly impact our health and well-being.