There are many benefits of canine therapy in for seniors. While people often think of the furry therapists as visiting hospitals, rehab centers and nursing homes, many do not realize that older adults in senior living communities also benefit from these visits.
Science has proven that interaction with gentle, friendly pets:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces anxiety and depression
- Enhances mood
- Diminishes physical pain
- Produces a relaxation response
- Increases socialization, decreases feelings of isolation
Why animal therapy works
Spending time bonding with an animal produces serotonin in the brain—the hormone that makes us feel good or happy—along with other chemicals that foster a sense of calm. Whether it’s stroking or brushing out an animal’s fur, giving a treat (and getting grateful puppy eyes looking back), or simply sitting together (perhaps with a dog’s head or paw in one’s lap), those moments are quite beneficial for older adults.
Pets are non-judgmental and are quite empathic—they sense a person’s moods (and often know whom to approach in the room in order to provide comfort); and service dogs sense changes in heart rate or other physical markers. Pet therapists also play a role in reducing the agitation and confusion associated with sundowning in people with dementia.
Although animals don’t communicate with us verbally, their gentle manner and acceptance can be soothing to people who may have trouble communicating with language. Interacting with a pet therapy animal can also help get seniors talking about their own pets from long ago, providing opportunities for socialization and sharing stories with each other.
At the JCHC, residents in our communities enjoy periodic visits from canine therapists and enjoy connecting with these loving animals. Given the beautiful interactions, these visits are clearly a treat for both humans and dogs.