therapy dog

Therapy Dogs and Their Benefits to Senior Citizens

As the United States population shifts to more people over the age of 65 than ever before, healthcare providers are searching for new methods to help address some of the specific concerns of senior citizens. According to the Pew Research Center, every day for the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65. There are many people for whom medication and therapy may not be enough to combat the need for daily assistance; but often in these cases, moving out of the home and into a nursing care facility isn’t necessary. In addition to private healthcare providers that can visit the home every day, many seniors are exploring the idea of therapy dogs as a way to help them with their everyday needs. Dogs can be trained for many types of therapy, and their care is often more affordable than a private healthcare provider.

Benefits of Therapy Dogs

It doesn’t take a scientist to know that pets make humans feel good; anyone who’s ever stroked a dog’s fur or felt a cat’s thrumming purr knows this. Science can, however, tell us how and why pets can be therapeutic. Just 15 minutes bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. The result: heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop. Over the long term, pet and human interactions can lower cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke. This is why pets for the elderly can be so beneficial. A 2009 study confirmed that having a companion dog improved the anxiety levels of elderly residents of a long term care facility.

Therapy Dogs- Mental Benefits

Seniors suffer from depression usually as a result of loneliness or isolation, either because friends and family members cannot visit on a regular basis, or they aren’t as active as they previously were.   Perhaps a loving spouse has passed away. Contact with supportive animals can bring some withdrawn seniors out of their shells, making them happier and more communicative. Studies show that seniors who are active and always around others, or who own a pet, decline in health far less rapidly than isolated or depressed seniors.