Does pet therapy have a role in elderly care?

If you've ever had a pet, you probably know the happiness a dog can bring you when it greets you at the door or a cat when it settles on your lap, but can animals offer more than just a smile? Are there real health benefits of keeping pets and, if so, can it work to support our growing elderly population?

Research has shown there is a very real connection between health and animals, especially for older people who may be at a high risk of suffering from isolation. This is why many of our homes try to integrate animals into the lives of our residents as much as possible.

Whether this is bringing pets into our homes or taking our residents into the community to animal farms or other local projects, some of our most popular events involve creatures great and small.

Owning a dog has been linked with lower health risks, such as heart attacks, and better survival rates for those that are recovering from a major health scare. There's also the physical benefits of having an animal around, even older owners are much more active when they have a dog to walk.

When dogs, cats and rabbits are brought into care and nursing homes, there have been signs that it can be linked to a reduced need for medication, improved physical functioning, and improved vital signs even for dementia patients.

Pet therapy has been linked to reductions in loneliness, agitated behaviours, and depression, as well as increases in engagement, wellbeing, nutritional intake, and social interactions.

It's not just small, fuzzy animals either. Alpacas, goats, and even horses can make fantastic visitors for older people. Not only is stroking these farmyard regulars good for soothing people of all ages, destressing and relaxing them, but it also offers a chance for more shy individuals to get involved.

But what specifically makes pet therapy beneficial in elderly care?

A study from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests that being around animals has a positive impact on the body's hormone levels. This could explain why pet therapy can help people with depression and stress.

The science supports the idea that animals bring happiness to people of all ages, especially the role pet therapy can have in elderly care. As everyone grows older, they need more support to do the things they love doing and this is something that is at the heart of our care homes.

We build specialist care plans for each of our residents to make sure they are getting the social, mental, and physical support they need to live a fulfilling life. If you want to find out more information about our care homes or the type of care available to you, get in touch with our Barchester team or click here to find your nearest care home.