Healing Power of Pets for the Elderly

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Pet ownership can be therapeutic for seniors. Conditions not relieved by medicine can often be eased by an animal companion. Here are a few ways having a pet can enhance your aging loved one’s wellbeing. 

Eases Alzheimer’s-Related Behavior 

Pets have a calming presence that often soothes agitation associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Aggressive outbursts are less frequent. Since pets are nonthreatening, they mollify paranoia. Friendly animals also promote interaction among socially withdrawn seniors. 

For a loved one with Alzheimer’s, try aquarium therapy. While your loved one is watching vibrant fish in a tank, the sound, movement, and color may arouse his or her appetite. Observing the graceful swimming motions can curb the tendency to pace, wander, and shout. 

If your elderly loved one is living with Alzheimer’s and needs help managing the symptoms, turn to Home Care Assistance, a leading provider of Alzheimer’s care. Lincoln seniors can rely on our revolutionary Cognitive Therapeutics Method (CTM), an activities-based program that promotes cognitive health and delays the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. CTM also encourages seniors to engage with others in an enjoyable way and helps them build new routines to look forward to.

Soothes Anxiety 

Gazing at pets activates the hormone oxytocin, which induces relaxation. Before operations, seniors who spend time with pets feel less tension. Animal interaction distracts seniors from worry by lowering the stress hormone cortisol. 

Reduces Depression & Loneliness 

A 2014 Vetstreet.com article describes the transforming effect of a dog on a hospitalized 73-year-old man who was depressed, had stopped eating, and was dying. His nurses knew the man had a Chihuahua at home and arranged for the pup to visit. Amazingly, upon seeing the animal, the man’s spirits lifted, and his health revived. 

When your loved one feels needed and loved by an animal, his or her self-esteem may increase. Pet care also provides a sense of purpose. Animal companionship can boost mood so antidepressant medication may become unnecessary. Pet interaction releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine that promote happy feelings.

A pet prescribed for a psychological purpose is termed an emotional support animal (ESA). The pet’s company can relieve the mental and emotional burdens of daily tasks. The pet can also enhance communication, physical function, and sleep. Examples of ESAs are cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs. 

Interacting with professional caregivers can also help seniors relieve stress and enjoy a higher quality of life. When researching agencies that provide senior care, families are usually looking for flexible care plans, compassionate and highly trained caregivers, and 24/7 availability. Whether you need respite care to take a break from your caregiving duties or your senior loved one needs around-the-clock assistance at home, you can rely on Home Care Assistance.

Strengthens Immunity 

A 2004 study published in Psychological Reports states that petting a dog increases levels of antibodies, including immunoglobulin A, which protect the body against infection. Pet ownership is associated with fewer doctor visits. When hospitalization is necessary, a senior with a dog or cat at home is likely to recover faster than someone who doesn’t own a pet. 

Relieves Pain 

Oxytocin released through animal interaction eases fibromyalgia, muscle cramps, and headaches. Brain cells that produce oxytocin are linked to the brain stem and spinal cord, and stimulating these cells causes the pain-relieving hormone to circulate throughout the body. Oxytocin also has anti-inflammatory properties, expediting wound closure. 

Increases Mobility 

In 2004, the University of Victoria evaluated the relationship between dog ownership and physical activity. The study involved 351 adults aged 20 to 80. Subjects were divided into two groups: dog owners and those who didn’t own dogs. All participants answered questions that assessed their level of physical activity. Survey results showed dog owners walked roughly twice as much as those who didn’t have dogs. The difference was a daily average of 43 minutes versus 24 minutes. The responsibility of dog walking spurs more frequent exercise. 

Prolongs Independence

Pets can help seniors sustain the ability to perform personal tasks. This was the finding of a year-long study of seniors aged 65 to 80. Participants replied to a questionnaire assessing their social activity, medical conditions, psychological wellbeing, and physical ability. Survey analysis showed the pet owners were more functional during the one-year period than non-pet owners. 

Those caring for animals stated their pets gave them a sense of purpose and daily structure. The animals also helped them stay active, both physically and socially. Many of the pet owners who were 80 and older reported better health status over the course of the year. 

Aids Cardiovascular Health 

For dog owners, regular walking lowers the risk of high cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure as well as obesity. Cat owners tend to have less hypertension due to the calming influence felines provide. Playing with a pet reduces stress, which also lowers blood pressure. 

Protects Seniors with Mental Illness 

A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is trained to protect a mentally ill person from accidents. For example, a dog can stop a disoriented senior from dangerous wandering. These dogs also provide physical support and balance and can remind seniors to take medication. In the case of overmedication, a PSD can alert another person. A trained dog can also turn on lights and retrieve objects. 

A PSD can counteract symptoms of panic disorder, anxiety disorder, major depression, bipolar disorder, dissociative identity, agoraphobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and mood disorder. To qualify for a PSD, your loved one must obtain a prescription from a licensed mental health professional stating the dog is needed to help him or her live safely. Then contact an organization that provides PSDs. 

Enhances Recall 

Giving your loved one a pet can summon memories of former animal companionship. Such remembrance helps seniors maintain brain function. 

Sharpens Concentration 

Meeting animal needs requires awareness and focus, and feeding, grooming, and communicating with an animal provides mental stimulation. Buying pet food and supplies also engages the mind. 

Professional caregivers can also help seniors manage several age-related symptoms, retain a sense of independence, and maintain a high quality of life. When considering homecare, Lincoln, CA, families should make sure their senior loved ones have the resources they need to maintain their independence and remain healthy. Trusted in-home care professionals can assist seniors with daily tasks like cooking, bathing, and exercise, and they can also encourage them to focus on healthier lifestyle habits. Call Home Care Assistance today at (916) 226-3737 to learn about our high-quality in-home care services.

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