by Michael Wesner, West Chester University Student and Volunteer at The Hickman 

When it comes to senior living communities, the implementation of pet therapy has shown to be useful in caring for the residents. According to M. Garrett, Pet Therapy for Older Adults from Psychology Today, pet therapy, also known as Animal Assisted Therapy, is a broad technique involving any interaction that patients have with animals to make them feel better. Pets provide multiple benefits for their owners. It not only feels good to be around pets, but can make some elders healthier.

Pet therapy provides companionship and allows seniors an opportunity for greater responsibilities within their communities or homes. Care for a pet can revive a sense of purpose in some seniors. Many seniors feel needed when they have a pet to look after. Because their pets rely on them, the seniors who care for animals may have more motivation, and show enthusiasm in daily chores.

From a social standpoint, owning a pet can lead to fraternization. The presence of a pet encourages interaction with others, which can be a benefit for elders, especially those who have recently moved into a community. Many seniors with pets show more interest in activities outside their homes, and caring for an animal can expand social circles. Pets provide a good source of mental and social stimulation for some uncommunicative seniors.

Pet therapy has physiological and kinesthetic advantages as well. Petting animals typically relaxes people and reduces their stress. Animal companionship reduces loneliness, which for some alleviates depression.

Pet therapy can also be physically rejuvenating. Seniors with dogs may increase their daily exercise by walking their pets. Typically, individuals who go on walks are likely to walk farther when joined by a pet. Individuals with disabilities can also experience physical benefits, as pet grooming may help to improve fine motor skills and relieve joint pain.

According to, pet therapy can even help patients with Alzheimer’s. Some seniors living with Alzheimer’s have demonstrated a noticeable reduction in their symptoms when in the presence of a pet.

Not all seniors living in a community have the capacity to own a pet, so a good option is to keep a small communal pet for all residents to share. Having rabbits or fish gives residents responsibility and companionship. Another option is bussing residents to local farms to visit horses or llamas. These alternatives allow residents to leave their comfort zone and bond with large animals.

The advantages of pet therapy in personal care communities are plentiful. Strong evidence supports the claims that time spent with animals is mentally and physically rewarding, and gives some seniors a greater purpose in life.

Published in the Daily Local News, September 4, 2017 

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