We’ve all felt it—the warm sense of comfort and joy in that instant we embrace a dog (unless you’re allergic!). Isn’t it magical? It’s actually scientific!
Dogs and humans have been living together for at least 15,000 years. There are different theories on how this friendship came to be…did we choose dogs or did dogs choose us? No one knows for sure. What we do know is that we’ve had a mutual relationship with them for thousands of years!
How can dogs help seniors?
In many, many ways! Studies show that isolated or depressed seniors decline in health much more rapidly than ones who are active and always around others (including dogs). They feel this way due to being distant from their own families, lack of friends, or because they know their bodies are not what they used to be. Thankfully, research proves that just fifteen minutes spent bonding with any friendly animal promotes positive hormonal changes within the brain. These changes include the release of serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin. Serotonin makes you happy, prolactin regulates the immune system and metabolism, while oxytocin makes you feel like you’re falling in love. Researchers at the University of Missouri have also determined older adults who also are pet owners benefit from the bonds they form with their canine companions. Need I say more? I will, but only because dogs have even more amazing abilities to mention!
Petting a dog adds positivity to one’s life, but taking care of a dog creates a whole slew of other benefits, too. For instance, walking a dog provides physical exercise. In fact, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults of all ages engage in 150+ minutes of moderate physical activity per week. This leads to improvements in mobility, prevents heart disease and lowers blood pressure.
Plus, the simple act of brushing and feeding provides both minor activity and helps seniors engage in life. By having a pet need them, a senior can foster a greater sense of purpose and self-worth.
How can therapy dogs help a senior?
Besides typical issues that come with age—elderly individuals can suffer from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, too. Alzheimer’s is a progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age due to generalized degeneration of the brain. It is the most common cause of premature senility. Dementia is a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning. If you can imagine, these issues bring on a lot of confusion and frustration. Let’s throw in a dog.
Can a dog help with that? Yes, they can, as a therapy dog. Practically any dog, regardless of breed, may be eligible for therapy dog certification. They just have to pass the required training and temperament testing.
Therapy dogs are used to bring someone comfort, affection, and happiness just like any dog. But they also help people with learning difficulties, aid medical professionals in providing mental and physical therapy, and offer relief to people recovering from a crises. According to the American Kennel Club, there are two ways a dog can help dementia and Alzheimer’s patients: either as a visiting therapy dog or as a companion service dog who lives full-time with the patient.
Do you think your loved one could use a furry friend? Consider getting a dog to combat loneliness, mental or physical issues, increase socialization and overall joy of life!