Healthy Ageing with Animal Therapy
Ask any pet owner and they’re likely to tell you, the joy and laughter their beloved cat or canine brings them on a daily basis is hard to measure. From their relentlessly wagging tails, the look of childish innocence on their face, to the simple greeting they give you without fail everytime you open the door after a busy day.
So it comes as no surprise that countless scientific studies have established a close link between pet ownership or regular interaction with animals and healthy ageing in our elderly population. This has given rise in recent years to the practice of ‘animal therapy’ for the elderly, which in simple terms is the presence of a companion animal (most commonly a cat or dog) at an aged care facility to provide company for residents and facilitate social interaction by becoming a common point of discussion. The benefits of animal therapy for healthy ageing and especially improved mental health are many. Here are just a few reasons why:
Healthy ageing through companionship:
The most obvious benefit of pet ownership for people young and old alike is the simple joys of unconditional love, friendship and companionship they provide. This is especially important for the elderly in aged care facilities who may be living some distance from family and close friends or who may be suffering from aged-related conditions such as dementia and alzheimer’s disease which can prevent them from engaging successfully with others at a cognitive level. In these situations animal therapy can provide the vital sense of social connectedness the elderly crave, fighting off feelings of loneliness, providing a common talking point amongst residents, staff and visitors whilst their simple presence can have a much welcomed ‘softening’ effect on the clinical atmosphere inside aged care facilities. A 1986 US study by Wilson and Netting came to this very conclusion, finding that 95% of elderly residents talked to their pet or companion animal, 82% said their companion animal made them feel better when sad and over 57% admitted confiding in their pet on a regular basis. It goes without saying all of this contributes to healthy ageing and a much more enjoyable stay for residents.
Healthy ageing through structure and routine:
As we retire and move from full-time work to a more sedentary lifestyle, it’s easy for people to lose habit and routine in their lives. Whilst some people love the slower pace of their lives and relish having free time to do whatever they want, for others this lack of structure can leave them feeling adrift. Here’s another situation when animal therapy can provide immense benefits, aiding healthy ageing by giving aged care residents or those living independently a living, breathing responsibility that needs to be feed, given water and taken for exercise. This is especially beneficial for maintaining mental health and ageing as the simple act of caring for another living being undoubtedly gives anyone a sometimes challenging but ultimately very rewarding purpose to their lives.
Healthy ageing through stress relief and relaxation:
Most of us can recall stressful situations we’ve experienced where the simple presence of an animal has immediately calmed frayed nerves and brought a welcome sense of relaxation. This can be one of the most powerful purposes for having therapy animals taking up residence in aged care facilities, with a 1996 US study by Humphries finding 62% of respondents saying having a pet around in social situations makes it easier to talk to others. Whether it’s preventing boredom and loneliness by adding company, structure and the chance for social interaction or simply providing a furry friend to make them laugh out loud at their many adorable quirks; the positive effects of animal therapy on healthy ageing are well documented. So grab your cats and dogs and hold them close, they could add years to your life and life to your years!
For more information on Japara, our range of word-class aged care facilities and our high quality aged care services, please visit us at japara.com.au or call us today on (03) 9649 2100 for a friendly chat with one our staff.