Commitment + Clinical Leadership = Better Outcomes
7 Ways Therapy Dogs Help Seniors
Therapy dogs are dogs that visit different settings such as nursing homes, daycares, schools, and hospitals alongside their owners. A therapy dog’s visitation goal is to help brighten someone’s day, and they are trained to provide psychological and physiological support.1
For a therapy dog to become officially certified, it must be calm and social with all types of people. Therapy dogs encourage social activity, provide company, motivate participation in activities, relieve stress, and encourage confidence. There are many different organizations that offer official therapy dog certifications such as the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.2
A therapy dog is not a service dog. Service dogs are trained to help people who are disabled, such as those who are blind or need mobile assistance. Service dogs are generally distinguished from other dogs by a vest and they are not allowed to be pet when on duty.
How Therapy Dogs Help Seniors
A visit from a therapy dog can have many benefits in the lives of seniors. Here are 7 ways therapy dogs help the seniors they spend time with.
Pet therapy uses animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, and horses to help those in need accomplish specific goals. When animals are used for therapy, a health professional will use an animal to guide their client through the process to help them express their thoughts and feelings.
For example, a pet therapist may ask a senior client who has a speech disorder as a result of a mobile condition to pet a dog to help improve their attention span and coordination. This can help someone who recently experienced a stroke, brain tumor, or paralysis engage with the therapy session and receive the most from it.3
Helps Seniors Feel Less Lonely
It’s estimated that 40% of seniors regularly experience loneliness. Loneliness puts seniors at risk for conditions such as depression, anxiety, dementia, and colds.4
In 2016, a study on pets found that animals can help provide emotional support as well as a sense of social security.5 Animals are able to help facilitate relationships and encourage conversations with others.
A visit from a therapy dog can give seniors a sense of belonging as well as give them something to talk about. Seniors may be able to take the therapy dog out for a walk and also help feed it small treats to give them a sense of purpose in their day. This can provide comfort and allow a senior to feel involved when spending time with an animal.
It’s a Fun Activity
Seniors who are in nursing homes, senior centers, and other settings may not be able to leave the building due to a medical condition or the fact that they need supervision. This makes many seniors who are unable to leave their setting have a set daily routine that they experience every day.
Therapy dogs can add a light to a senior’s life who may not be able to visit their family and friends. Dogs can add variety to a senior’s day and give them something new to look forward to.
Dogs Can Lower Blood Pressure
Petting a dog for 15 minutes has been found to reduce blood pressure levels by as much as 10%. The body is able to lower its stress levels because the brain will release serotonin, oxytocin, and prolactin, which can lower the amount of cortisol in the body, which is a stress hormone.6
Seniors with high blood pressure levels are at risk for developing heart disease, strokes, eye problems, and kidney disease. Petting an animal can help them relieve some of their stress and anxiety, which can lower blood pressure and help keep them from developing these health conditions.
Help Seniors Be Active
Therapy dogs are able to encourage physical activity in seniors to get them up and active during the day. The dogs will occasionally need to go for walks, and seniors can go outside with the dogs to get moving.
There are also some activities that therapy dogs can get seniors more involved with, such as playing fetch with them. Therapy dogs can also help promote seniors to get up and move by encouraging them to explore different areas of the building or the outdoors with them.
Reduce Anxiety and Depression
Petting animals can help the brain release serotonin and dopamine, which can allow it to relax and reduce anxiety and depression.7
Dogs can also help seniors find a sense of companionship and be more mindful of the present. This allows seniors to stop stressing as much about things in their future and past and focus more on the dog in front of them. Dogs give joy in the moment, which can help relieve a senior’s anxiety and depression.
Can Help Those with Dementia
Seniors who have Alzheimer’s or dementia can greatly benefit from the company of a dog. One study found that dogs can improve cognitive functioning, help with mobility, and assist with bringing back memories from the past. Another study found that dogs can help improve the physical health of people with dementia, with the participants having better balance coordination and less risk of falling.8
Seniors who struggle with dementia can interact with therapy dogs while experiencing comfort and care from them. Therapy dogs are also able to notice when someone may be on edge and can help soothe someone with dementia who may be struggling.
Saber Healthcare and Therapy Dogs
Here at Saber Healthcare, some of the communities that we are privileged to serve have had visits from therapy dogs in the past. Therapy dogs have provided our residents with joy and comfort during the day, especially when they are unable to go outside or see their families.
To learn more about Saber Healthcare and the services we offer, click here.
Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.
- “What is the Difference Between a Therapy Dog vs a Service Dog?” Alliance of Therapy Dogs. 12 April 2017. Accessed 5 April 2022. Link: https://www.therapydogs.com/service-dog-vs-therapy-dog/
- “Therapy Dogs.” Wikipedia. 4 April 2022. Accessed 5 April 2022. Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therapy_dog
- “17 Benefits of Therapy Dogs for the Elderly.” Chosen Family Home Care. Accessed 5 April 2022. Link: https://www.chosenfamilyhomecare.com/17-benefits-of-therapy-dogs-for-the-elderly/
- “5 Ways To Help Seniors Feel Less Lonely.” Saber Healthcare Group. 28 January 2022. Accessed 5 April 2022. Link: https://www.saberhealth.com/news/blog/how-to-help-seniors-feel-less-lonely
- Feldman, Steven. “For Better Mental Health, Experience The Pet Effect.” Mental Health America. Accessed 5 April 2022. Link: https://mhanational.org/blog/better-mental-health-experience-pet-effect#:~:text=Science%20demonstrates%20that%20these%20biological,long%2Dterm%20mental%20health%20conditions.
- Jowaheer, Roshina. “How petting a dog can lower your blood pressure by 10%.” Hearst UK, Country Living. 28 September 2018. Accessed 5 April 2022. Link: https://www.countryliving.com/uk/wellbeing/a23503266/petting-dog-lowers-blood-pressure/
- “The Health and Mood-Boosting Benefits of Pets.” HelpGuide. July 2021. Accessed 6 April 2022. Link: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/mood-boosting-power-of-dogs.htm
- Klimova, B., Toman, J. & Kuca, K. Effectiveness of the dog therapy for patients with dementia - a systematic review. BMC Psychiatry 19, 276 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-019-2245-x