If you’ve ever had a pet, you know how calming and peaceful it can feel just to scratch behind a dog’s ears or pet the smooth fur of a cat. That feeling is the basis of animal-assisted therapy, a movement that began in the 1990s and has grown ever since. The goal of animal-assisted therapy is to improve an individual’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. One of its most effective applications has been in senior communities.
Benefits of Interacting with Animals
Studies have shown that just a few minutes interacting with an animal can lower stress hormones (such as cortisol) and increase serotonin, which produces a sense of calm and happiness. These changes in brain chemistry may result in lowered heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels.
An article in Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research lists some of the other potential benefits:
- Increased physical activity and improved cardiovascular health (as a result of regularly walking a dog).
- Improvement in the behavior of those with dementia, including decreased agitation, improved social interaction, and overall engagement with the animals and the environment.
- Relief from feelings of isolation or boredom.
- Increased sense of personal value (especially when given the responsibility of caring for an animal).
Ways of Interacting
Most often, therapy animals are brought to care centers to interact with the residents. An excellent example is a program called P.A.L.S., which is offered by The Goodman Group.
This program brings certified therapy animals to The Goodman Group’s communities on a weekly-basis. The goal of the program is to allow both the residents and even the staff members to have frequent interactions with the certified therapy animals and their handlers. The frequency presents the opportunity to create a bond with the animals to increase the positive effects including the activation of parts of the brain associated with heightened empathy, love, and positive mental outlook.
The P.A.L.S. program is so successful that both residents and staff members arrive early for the chance to spend time with the dogs, cats, rabbits, roosters, and more!
Aside from regular visits, there are other ways that animals can be an important part of senior living. Smaller, contained animals such as fish and birds can be a permanent part of daily life. Caring for them has been shown to be especially beneficial for those with dementia.
Increasingly, senior communities are allowing, and even encouraging, residents to bring their pets with them when they move in. When you realize that close to half of all seniors own pets, that’s great news to a lot of people considering a move to a senior community. The Goodman Group is a leader in this trend. We welcome pets in all of our communities.