Pet Therapy for Older People: Urban myth or powerful treatment?

Sunrise  |  February 26, 2020

Anyone who has ever owned a pet will know the awesome power of their company. For most, it often feels as if even the gloomiest of days can be perked up by the unconditional love of a loyal family pet.

Yet are these supposed positive effects backed-up by scientific research or is it just another urban myth? And, if there are proven benefits, can pet therapy be used to support care of older people?

The facts

The science is in: pets DO have the power to make us healthier, happier and more content in our lives. What’s more, research has proven that pet therapy, the treatment that uses animal interaction, can help improve the quality of life for older people. 

Pet therapy for older people

Many older citizens experience depression due to reduced physical capabilities the increased risk of loneliness and isolation. This is especially true for those who live with dementia, who face distinct challenges and anxieties. Having an animal in their life can act as an ailment to this by improving their well-being and giving them new purpose to their life.

Just fifteen minutes of quality time with an animal can promote hormonal changes, causing the “feel good” hormone, serotonin, to be produced and circulated around the brain. In practice, pet therapy has been shown to reduce stress, improve cognitive functioning and increase enthusiasm and interest.

And, according to the RSCPA, research has also suggested that contact with animals can have a number of physical health benefits, including increased cardiovascular health (lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol), increased physical activity and fewer visits to the doctor. One study which put aquariums in a care home also found that that residents’ food intake increased, reducing the need for nutritional supplements.

However, it’s important to remember that while many residents will thoroughly enjoy interacting with animals, not all residents will share their enthusiasm. Care and attention should always be a priority while holding a pet therapy session to ensure both residents and animals have an excellent experience.

Types of pet therapy

There are a wide variety of pet therapy options available for residents and care homes like Sunrise Senior Living UK’s homes. Some animals live in care homes and develop lifelong connections with residents and staff, while others regularly bring various animals into their homes. It is also possible in some areas to arrange for animals from a local zoo to visit care homes. Sunrise UK care homes are pet-friendly and residents are encouraged to bring their pet with them when they move in.

Considering the overwhelming benefits of pet therapy and the variety options available, it’s no wonder that so many care homes like Sunrise have tried integrating animals into the routines of their residents.

View the full list of Sunrise care homes here to find your nearest location.