Seniors living alone or receiving care in nursing homes and assisted living facilities often experience loneliness and isolation. These feelings can have negative physiological consequences, like an increased risk of depression and Alzheimer’s. Reducing that loneliness is easy, some say. All it takes is a furry friend.
Research has found that long term care patients can significantly benefit from the companionship that a pet provides in a variety of ways. There are numerous documented instances in which pets have helped the elderly cope with loneliness and find new purpose in life.
The activities director at a nursing home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania brings her two yellow labs with her to work, where they visit with residents of the home and bring them comfort and joy they might not otherwise get to experience. An article in Penn Live explains how Rose Lance “recognized the impact of the human-animal connection after having a dog visit with a resident that had never spoken. The lady suddenly became animated, talking, petting and kissing her furry visitor the entire time.”
Why the Impact?
Pets help the elderly remain
engaged and interested
in the world around them, rather than shutting down and becoming withdrawn. A 2006 study found that nursing home residents felt much less lonely after spending time alone with a dog, even compared to when other people joined in the visit with the dog. Researchers found that “the loneliest individuals benefited the most from visits with dogs” and believe the study suggests that additional human interaction “might be slightly detrimental” when compared to one-on-one time with a dog.
It’s not hard to understand why these people are so comforted by the dog’s presence; after all, dog is known as man’s best friend. The College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University published information advocating the bond between pets and the elderly, claiming, “the right companion animal may help seniors and the elderly lead happier, healthier lives.”
This is because pets provide companionship, decrease loneliness, accept humans as they are, and provide a sense of being needed, according to researchers at the university.
Addressing the problem of loneliness is important when it comes to long term care patients, not only to maintain their emotional wellbeing, but their physical and mental state, as well. Depression, which commonly stems from loneliness, especially in care settings, has been shown to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, which means being happy is crucial to all aspects of our health. Pets help seniors remain happy, even in times that might otherwise be considered unpleasant.
Identifying the needs of seniors in long term care is important to improving and integrating the long term care services and support in this nation. Combating loneliness, depression, and dementia is an integral component of patient wellbeing, and should be considered in every aspect of care. Read more about long term care and the risk of dementia in the United States.