Don’s father had suffered a stroke a few months ago, and although he was attending traditional physical therapy, he wasn’t progressing as much as everyone hoped. The physical therapist recommended an alternative treatment program—animal assisted therapy. Don wasn’t sure how petting dogs and cats would help his father with physical therapy, but the physical therapist was very enthusiastic. Don’s dad had always loved animals, so Don figured pet therapy wouldn’t hurt to try.
After several months of working with Spider, a therapy dog, Don’s father showed a lot of improvement. He had gone from having limited use of his left arm and leg to being able to do several tasks, such as grasp the dog’s brush firmly, brush Spider’s coat from the head to the tail in several long strokes, give clear verbal commands, walk Spider up and down the hallway and many other impressive tasks. Pet therapy had provided Don’s father with the right amount of pleasure and motivation to reach his physical therapy goals.
Over the last several decades, the use of pet therapy for different healthcare settings has grown rapidly and received a lot of positive attention. Originally, pet therapy was not widely validated but as more studies looked into the benefits that pet therapy provides for patients of all ages, there are an increasing number of places that incorporate animal assisted therapy. Whether it’s mental health, speech and language, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or post-surgery recovery, animals are making a big impact on how seniors heal.
Most people think of dogs or cats when it comes to pet therapy, but there are a number of different animals that can be used, like guinea pigs, rabbits, snakes, birds, horses and goats. Animals and handlers must undergo training and certification in order to participate in most animal assistance therapy programs, and there’s a lot more to it than just letting people pet the animals. From hospitals and clinics to senior care centers, animal assisted therapy is growing more popular each year.
So how does pet therapy actually work? When it comes to the physical and occupational therapy, it seems that seniors are more likely to engage in repetitive tasks that rebuild muscle and flex joints when they are interacting with animals instead of people. They are willing to do longer and more frequently to make a therapy animal happy or react to them, which translates to faster recovery and better health.
Petting a therapy animal can also release endorphins which can minimize pain, depression, anxiety and stress. Studies also show that interacting with dogs and cats in particular can lead to lower blood pressure, reduced cardiovascular problems and better motor skills. It’s no wonder that so many senior care professionals are taking a second look at pet therapy when it comes to treating the elderly for physical and mental health issues.
While many family caregivers and their elderly loved ones may not put much stock into the idea that animals can help people be happier and healthier, there’s a growing number of experts that are discovering that animal assisted therapy is an effective yet underutilized service that should be more available to seniors of all backgrounds and conditions.
If you or an aging loved one are considering senior care in East Lansing, MI, please contact the caring staff at Seniors Helping Seniors of Lansing. Call today: 517-332-9953.