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Pet Therapy and the Benefits of Pets in Senior Living

By Dana LarsenFebruary 20, 2012
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Pets are not only good companions for senior citizens, they have also shown to improve senior health, according to the American Animal Health Hospital Association. Assisted living communities have begun to integrate pets into their care through neighborhood pet therapy programs, and more communities are allowing seniors to bring their companion animals with them into assisted care and retirement homes.

Pet Therapy in Senior Living

Research has shown that pet therapy is more than having a cute friend to cuddle with. In fact, there are actually scientific results that the physical and mental benefits that come from a furry friend are undeniable. 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 pet therapy for senior citizens can be so beneficial.

Here are a few other health benefits associated with pet companionship, according to a University of Minnesota study and experts in the field:

  1. Pets actually lower health care costs. Seniors with pets actually make fewer doctor visits than those who don’t — especially for minor health issues.
  2. Elders with pets have more emotional stability in times of stress.
  3. Pet owners have significantly lower systolic blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  4. Heart patients who have owned pets live longer than those who don’t have pets.
  5. Male pet owners have fewer signs of heart disease than those who don’t.
  6. People without cats are 30 to 40 percent more likely to die of heart disease than those who own cats.
  7. Heart rates and blood pressure of pet owners increase less when faced with difficult situations, if their pet is by their side.
  8. Pets help fight depression.
  9. Seniors living independently with pets have better physical and mental health than those living without.

So having a furry companion can be very therapeutic to senior citizens. Brookdale Northwest Hills in Austin, Texas, discusses the benefits they’ve witnessed from being a pet-friendly community:

“We love our residents and we love their pets. Pets have a special way of lighting up our resident’s hearts and we feel that is one more way that makes our community a home!”

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Dana Larsen