Those of us that love dogs go out of our way to make them feel loved and treasured. We buy our picky eaters special foods, we hunt down the best toys, and we give them the best medical care we can afford.
Why do we do it? Because we already know that dogs give us back more than they take in the form of unconditional love and reminding us of the simple joys in life.
However, did you know that dogs are contributing to our overall health as well? In this article, we will look at some of the research backed benefits of dogs, with a special focus on the contributions they make to the health of seniors.
General Health Benefits
Beyond the simple joys that canines bring to our lives, there are several known health benefits to spending time with dogs. Among the most studied are their positive impact on blood pressure, stress levels and heart rates.
Research has shown these benefits in groups of all ages, including seniors. Since heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, the potential impact that dogs are having in our lives is quite substantial!
Dogs have also been shown to help with pain management and aid in rehabilitation from coronary events and surgeries. The healing power of the human-canine bond is still being explored, but it is safe to say they are contributing to our overall health in significant ways.
Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)
Over the last 20 years, researchers have been studying the use of companion animals for therapy in various institutional contexts, including senior assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
Patients with dementia have shown increased social behavior, decreased agitation, and even slight impacts in overall functionality as a result of their participation in animal assisted therapy programs. Given that over 5 million Americans are suffering from Alzheimer’s, this represents a very significant portion of the population that stands to benefit from interactions with dogs.
In addition, many seniors live in facilities that do not allow pets. When given an opportunity to participate in animal assisted therapy, those seniors with a life history that included having pets experience a significant decrease in feelings of social isolation and loneliness.
Depression and Anxiety in the elderly population is another area where dogs are having an impact. Time spent with dogs has been shown to reduce both. In addition, many scientific studies have shown that dogs have a positive overall impact on our perceptions of pain, a benefit that people of all ages enjoy as a result of time spent with canines.
Another area that has been studied in terms of the human-animal bond in seniors has been the effects of dog ownership.
One of the most studied aspects of this bond has demonstrated that dog ownership translates to a significant increase in physical activity, a critical aspect of maintaining overall health. Seniors that own dogs tend to walk more, and those that do walk their dogs experience significant health benefits.
In addition to these personal health benefits, dog friendly communities show higher levels of social interaction and sense of community. As a result, pet-friendly senior care and assisted living communities are on the rise. This is great news for the many seniors who already know that their companion animals contribute to their quality of life.
Balancing Benefits and Responsibility
Of course, the benefits of dog ownership need to be balanced with the added responsibility and expense that come with it. Some senior living facilities have solved this problem by having a shared dog that all of the residents can enjoy, without placing too much responsibility on any one. A novel solution!
Regardless of how seniors come to spend time with dogs, the partnership is a winning combination!
Images are from pixabay – creative commons
Guest Author Bio
Mathew Coulton has worked with dogs for just under a decade and is the founder of Wiley Pup, a doggy lover’s website that provides great tips and advice for pet parents everywhere.