If you have an older loved one residing in an assisted living community, you may know firsthand that low energy, health issues, and mobility limitations can keep them from being as socially active as they would like to be.
Low levels of social interaction can lead to loneliness and in severe cases, even depression. These symptoms can be worse for older adults who do not reside in an active, senior living community.
Fortunately, these symptoms of social isolation can be treated with various types of companionship. According to the National Institute of Health, both pet ownership and animal-assisted therapy can improve physical and mental health in older adults. So, whether your older loved one has the ability to own a pet or just the chance to visit with one, their quality of life could dramatically improve.
It may sound silly relying on a pet for social interaction because of the fact that they cannot carry on a conversation, but having another individual there to love and give attention to can really have a positive impact on one’s emotional state. The social benefits animal interaction can have on your loved one are:
Increased Interest in Activities – Whether it is taking the dog to a park, on a walk, or just throwing a ball around - having an animal in the life of your loved one will give them more opportunities to stay active.
Stimulates Memories – Interactions with animals can trigger memories of past experiences and childhood pets.
Encourages Social Interaction – Owning a pet produces more opportunities for socialization. It creates a conversation topic for total strangers, and other pet owners are often compelled to come and interact with your animal.
With an increase in your older loved one’s social activity, their emotional state will improve as well. Having a loving creature that is excited to see you will make almost anyone happier! Some specific ways animals can emotionally benefit those in assisted living are:
Relief of Stress – Animal-assisted therapy and the interaction with an animal is relaxing, and the physical touch has been known to calm nerves. According to a study done by the University of Missouri, dogs can actually increase a person’s serotonin levels, which elevates mood.
A Sense of Purpose – Having a creature that your older loved one cares for or interacts with can instill a sense of purpose. Knowing that an animal needs their love and is willing to give them love in return also creates meaningful emotions for seniors.
Increased Self-Esteem – Having an animal that has unconditional love will make anyone feel appreciated. A lot of older adults get down about their age or health issues, and a pet can combat all of those negative emotions.
If your loved one does reside in an assisted living community, they may already have a sense of acceptance amongst peers and they may feel satisfied with their social life. However, animal interaction can also have a positive impact on a senior’s physical health.
More Active Lifestyle – As mentioned earlier, animals can increase the number of physical activities in one’s life.
Increased Heart and Brain Health – Animal interaction is calming which, in turn, can lower blood pressure levels, lower cholesterol, and decrease the risk of heart attack or other cardiovascular-related diseases. When you have better blood pressure and a healthier heart, your brain health also improves.
These benefits cover just a few reasons of how animal interaction can benefit the senior in your life. If your loved one does reside in an assisted living community, inquire if they have an animal therapy program. If your older loved one lives with you or in their home, consider adopting a furry friend for them to improve their quality of life!
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