Pets and animal assisted therapy in the elderly
Nearly half of elderly individuals in the United States own pets, usually cats and dogs but other pets as well such as birds and fish. Studies have shown that individuals with pets feel more companionship, less loneliness and have a sense of purpose. Animal assisted therapy, where an animal is brought to a person in the nursing home or other place of living for an hour three times a week, also showed lower loneliness scores then those residents who did not have the visits with the pets.
Interaction of people with dementia with animals have less agitation and less behavioral issues than those who do not. There seems to be less depression and better social interaction after a visit with an animal as well.
Elderly pet owners were more likely to exercise 15 minutes or more a day secondary to their pets. They also had lower blood pressures leading the American Heart Association to release a statement acknowledging the relationship of pet ownership and the decrease in heart disease.
This is mostly true for dogs – dogs are always a popular choice because of their friendly and loving nature and need for human closeness. The best dogs are usually the family breeds – Labradors for an example. In fact with the new breeds of dogs coming out every day, bred for their characteristics, there is quite a variety to choose from. The more popular dogs these days are breeds such as poodle crosses, most of all, the Labradoodle. This breed is a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle and they were first bred in Australia for a very clever reason. The commitment and loyalty of a Labrador, crossed with the intelligence and the non – malting coat of a Poodle creates the perfect assistance dog, for people with allergies to animals. The tight curls on the dog means it is immune to many of those with pet allergies, meaning a disabled person can safely use a Labradoodle as an assistance dog, not only this, but a therapy dog. Their gentle loving nature makes them easy to fall in love with too, which is the perfect choice for the elderly! There are many breeders all over the world breeding australian labradoodle puppies for their dramatically increasing demand!
There are some risks of pet ownership as well. People can accidentally trip and fall over their pets, some sustaining serious injury such as fractures. There are some reports of bites or injury to property bye pets though these are rare. The other issue is the grief reaction when a pet dies and this can be a very difficult time for the owner.
Overall, I think that the positive feelings of pets and animals outweigh the negative possibilities of pets and animal assisted therapy. But for more information see The Benefits of Pets and Animal Assisted Therapy to the Health of Older Individuals by E Paul Chemical and Ariella R Chemiack published in Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research November 16, 2014.