Dogs make people happy. They make people smile. Who doesn’t love to pet a dog or visit with a cute little puppy?!? But not only are they fun…they actually have shown to have some great benefits on the elderly.
Research has shown how beneficial pet therapy can be to the elderly, especially those who are living in a nursing home. Regular visits with pets, usually dogs, can have positive physical, emotional, and mental benefits. Physical benefits include lowering blood pressure, lowering heart rate, and reducing overall stress. Emotional benefits are reducing anxiety and depression, decreasing loneliness through increasing social interaction with the pets and their human companions. Consistent interaction with a pet has been shown to cause an increased release of serotonin and dopamine in the brain which can help calm and soothe a person’s body. This can be helpful for patients with Alzheimer’s dementia, as regular pet visits may help to decrease unwanted behaviors and calm their agitation. Also there are mental benefits that are a result of increased mental stimulation, whether it’s talking to the pet directly, asking questions to the dog’s owner or talking with other residents about the dog. All of these things help to keep the brain active.
Many patients come to a facility for short-term rehab. Sometimes that means leaving their dog at home with family or even in a kennel to be boarded during their rehab stay. They may or may not get to see their pet during their stay. Pet owners often become sad and may even demonstrate some degree of depression over missing their pet. If dogs come to visit, it can help raise their spirits and give them a chance to tell stories about their dogs. This can increase socialization. It can help them forget (if even for a moment) any pain that they are experiencing, any sadness that they have, how much they miss their home. It can help improve overall mood which can lead to increased motivation and participation in therapy resulting in increased ability to achieve rehab goals and prepare to return home. And returning home is the goal of rehab.
Heather Hart, MA, CCC/SLP
Rehab Director @ Bermuda Commons