With over half of UK households owning a pet of some kind, it’s fair to say that we are a nation of animal lovers. The bond between a human and an animal can be strong, and it can bring many health benefits too, especially for those in care homes who may be living with frailty, ageing or health conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's.
More and more care homes in the UK are starting to understand the benefits of pet therapy for their residents.
Pet Therapy Creates Love and Friendship
Although care home residents are surrounded by staff and other residents, life in a care home can be isolating and lonely. Spending time with a therapy animal can elevate some of these feelings. It’s well-known that interacting with a pet increases the levels of “feel-good" hormones - serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin - in our bodies. It also decreases the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Giving care home residents the opportunity to be around a therapy pet offers a break in their routine and gives them something to look forward to.
It's also been shown that being around animals has a whole host of benefits to our physical health, including reducing high blood pressure, reducing stress, encouraging relaxation and elevating feelings of anxiety and depression. Knowing a therapy animal is coming to visit can give residents of care homes the motivation to leave their rooms and become more mobile, aiding exercise regimes and overall physical health.
Improving Emotional Wellbeing
As well as improvements to physical health, pet therapy can bring a whole host of benefits to the mental health of care home residents. For elderly care home residents living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, pet therapy has been known to unlock fond memories that might have been inaccessible before due to their illness.
For many elderly care home residents with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, feelings of depression and hopelessness often accompany their illness. They can struggle with the loss of independence and the growing inability to communicate as they once did as their illness progresses. Being able to contribute to the care of an animal through grooming, feeding or walking, can give a person with dementia a sense of purpose and a feeling of empowerment. It can also help keep any negative thoughts at bay, even if just for a little while.
Making Friends Through Pet Therapy
Moving into a care home can be a big change for those used to their own independence and company, and new residents may struggle to adjust to their new environment and daily routine. They may have had to leave a much-loved home or move far away from their existing support networks of friends and family to receive additional care and medical support. One of the most difficult things about moving into a care home is getting to know other residents and making friends.
But the good news is, pet therapy can really help new residents to settle into their new home. Therapy pets can help to encourage new residents to leave their rooms and come together in a shared lounge or outdoor space, which promotes social interaction. Animals are also a great talking point. The residents of an elderly care home may have come to spend time with the cute animal but they may end up actually chatting with others at the care home and striking up new friendships. Plus, for those who have never had the experience of owning a pet, pet therapy can provide a unique opportunity to get close to animals and form a newfound friendship or bond. And the sheer joy of playing with an energetic puppy or petting a gentle kitten can be just the thing to make a new resident feel more relaxed and comfortable.
The Unconditional Love That Animals Bring
Unlike people, animals don’t pass judgment or work on first impressions - they simply don’t care if you haven’t done your hair or if you’re a bit unsteady on your feet. They also don’t hold grudges, so if you’re having a difficult day, they won’t hold it against you. Animals also have a sixth sense when it comes to gauging people’s moods, and those animals chosen for pet therapy work are usually picked because of their empathetic natures. They are far more likely to seek you out and offer unconditional love and affection if you’re feeling down or a little lonely. They’re also great listeners. Therapy pets enjoy the company of people just as much as we enjoy theirs, so the benefits more often than not, go both ways.
Pet therapy is a regular activity within our homes. For more information on this and the other activities planned, contact your nearest home.