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7 Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy for Seniors

psychology today defines animal-assisted therapy as:

A therapeutic intervention that incorporates animals, such as horses, dogs, cats, and birds, into the treatment plan. The client, therapist, and animal work together on therapeutic activities that are outlined in a treatment plan, with clear goals for change, measurable objectives, and the expectation of identifiable progress toward treatment goals.

Source: pikisuperstar/freepik

Research suggests that animal-assisted therapy can have a positive impact on the quality of life of older people.[1][2][3][4] This is particularly relevant for those living alone or in long-term care facilities.

When considering animal-assisted therapy for seniors, it’s important to weigh factors such as cost, animal behavior, training, allergies, other health factors, fall risk, and other safety issues. When appropriate (such as in the case of older people with serious illnesses or living in a long-term care facility), have the animal examined and cleared by a professional veterinarian. Work with someone who is certified in Animal Assisted Therapy or get certified yourself.

Seven Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy for Seniors

1. Increase physical activity–Whether walking around the block with a dog, playing (i.e., hitting a dog or a rope to a cat), feeding and brushing, or petting and cuddling, interactions with animals encourage greater mobility and reflexes and slow down.

2. Increase mental activity–Animal-assisted therapy can foster mental acuity and problem-solving skills, such as teaching a dog a new trick or a new act of obedience.

3. Increase communicationTalking to animals has psychological benefits. Communicating with animals can be fun, cathartic, and healing. This is especially important for older adults who are quiet and/or lonely. Interacting with animals inevitably requires some form of verbal speech. Such human-to-animal verbalization may, in turn, further facilitate human-to-human speech. For senior caregivers, asking friendly questions about their pets can be a great conversation starter.

    cats coming/pexels

Source: Cats Coming/pexels

4. Increases positive emotions and decreases negative ones–The emotional benefits of animal-assisted therapy are well established. AAT can increase bonding and security and decrease stress and anxiety. Interacting with animals can be a positive distraction to alleviate the worries and discomforts of the elderly.

5. Increase affection and decrease loneliness–In relation to the previous points, a significant benefit of the interaction between older animals is the increase in emotional connection and the decrease in isolation. This can happen even with basic activities (ie, petting a cat or dog, or feeding a fish or bird). Simple interactions with animals can often bring a smile to an elderly person’s face.

6. Decrease negative behaviors–When the pairing is appropriate, the positive emotional impact of an animal can, in turn, reduce the older adult’s negative expressions, such as anger, outbursts and irritation.

7. Increased locus of control–With a well-trained or well-behaved animal, ATT can increase the elderly’s sense of locus of control (having control over one’s life and environment) and reduce helplessness and helplessness. This can happen with simple acts like a dog trotting across the room or a cat meowing when their name is called. The act of feeding an animal also gives the older adult a sense of responsibility and relevance.

© 2022 by Preston C. Nor.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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