Linda’s mother had been receiving in-home care in NJ for several years. While the care was excellent, her mother just did not seem like her old self. Then one day, Linda, a 45-year-old mother, brought a puppy home for her own mother. It was then that she and her family learned firsthand the affect a pet can have on the health and outlook of a senior. Linda’s mother became more active: grooming, feeding, and playing with the new puppy rather than spending most of her time sleeping or watching television.
Although she may not realize it, Linda’s mother is benefiting from animal-assisted therapy, which is commonly called pet therapy. Animals can be used to help offset emotional and sometimes even physical problems to improve the quality of life for seniors; a group that commonly experiences loss of mobility, loneliness, and depression. With a small bit of careful planning, the pet-senior relationship can be happy and beneficial for all concerned.
Occasionally, as seniors age, they become more withdrawn and solitary, losing the desire and ability to develop new relationships. Pets offer much-needed companionship and can increase the quantity and quality of social interactions among their owners. Seniors who own pets have more frequent conversations. Rather than dwell in the past, senior pet owners tend to focus on current interests and activities, which can provide common ground with new acquaintances and increase the opportunity to form new bonds.
Loneliness and depression can be traumatic for seniors. It changes the production of hormones, function of body systems, can contribute to the start or severity of diseases, and prolongs the amount of time the body takes to heal. Senior adults are a lonely age group for several reasons, including the loss of friends and spouse, or retirement. Many senior citizens end up in long-term care facilities that restrict personal belongings, including pets. Residents in their facilities also have to deal with the separation from loved ones. Loneliness in these facilities tends to be a common problem, which animal-assisted therapy can help decrease.
Banks and Banks did a study with three long-term care facilities in Mississippi. Forty-five residents with no cognitive impairments, psychiatric disorders, allergies to animals, with a minimum of a sixth grade education and who could read and write in English were divided into three groups: 15 with no pet therapy, 15 with one 30-minuet session of pet therapy a week, and 15 with three 30-minuet sessions a week. It was found that the therapy reduced loneliness, though there was no difference between the second and third groups. This research showed that pet therapy can effectively reduce loneliness and therefore depression in older adults.