There is an undeniable power in the animal-human bond. Throughout the United States, pet therapy, often referred to as animal-assisted therapy (AAT), is increasing as a way to help patients reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. Studies have shown that there are many wellness benefits associated with interacting a few minutes a day with an animal. Petting a dog or having the animal simply lay next to a patient can help reduce blood pressure and release endorphins that help provide a sense of calming.
Pet therapy objectives will vary depending on the patient and their needs. For older adults, pet therapy can provide companionship and social support. Older adults often feel isolated and lonely, especially after the loss of a spouse, after a health diagnosis or a move to an assisted-living facility. Engaging with a pet for a few minutes each day can increase serotonin, lower blood pressure and decrease depression. Many care facilities incorporate pet therapy into their weekly programming, and having a dog stop by the rooms to visit the residents brings many smiles, lots of love and wagging tails.
The unconditional love and calming energy of a pet can benefit caregivers as well as loved ones. As a caregiver, you may feel like you are all alone and the thought of caring for a pet in addition to your loved one may seem overwhelming. However, the love and the smiles they bring to faces of those around them, may benefit both of you. Or, you may have a neighbor or friend with a calm dog. Consider having the dog come by for a visit every once in a while!
If you are interested in learning more about pet therapy programs, talk to your doctor and health care team to learn about pet therapy programs in your area and to identify if it may be a good option for you or your loved one.