Owners' Blog

Does Pet Therapy Help the Elderly?

By Hilary and Greg Eldridge

Family caregivers are always on the lookout for products and services that can enhance the life of their elderly loved one, like home care services, senior centers and products for aging. Many are discovering pet therapy as a beneficial practice for seniors that are struggling with physical or mental illness, dementia, or are simply lonely or isolated much of the time. It doesn’t take long to see that pet therapy is a worthwhile service for the elderly.

What is Pet Therapy?

Formally known as Animal Assisted Therapy or AAT, it’s interaction between people and a trained animal guided by an expert handler. While dogs and cats are most common for AAT, many programs also incorporate rabbits, guinea pigs, horses and even fish. Both the animals and the handlers must go through specific training to qualify to participate in a pet therapy program.

Different levels of pet therapy exist, depending on the person’s goals, which can range from reducing stress and boredom to specific recovery goals that could include improving motor skills, boost verbal communication and battling depression.

Who Can Benefit from Pet Therapy?

Just about every senior could benefit from pet therapy, depending what they are going through. In particular, when seniors are going through any kind of recovery or rehabilitation, animals can provide a level of motivation that is hard to find anywhere else. Many seniors also find it easier to communicate with animals than other people. Elderly loved ones with a lot of physical or occupational therapy needs really get a lot out of pet therapy because they feel a sense of responsibility toward the animal’s needs.

Some of the benefits of interacting with animals include lower blood pressure, reduces physical pain because of the release of endorphins, relaxation and stress relief, boosts cardiovascular health, reduce feelings of depression and loneliness, decreases anxiety and much more. Seniors of all backgrounds and abilities can enjoy spending time in AAT, whether at a designated site or center, or even through a pet therapy home care service. Elderly loved ones with allergies to pet dander should make sure they are only exposed to animals that don’t trigger problems.

Tips for Productive Pet Therapy Sessions

The success of pet therapy depends on working with a doctor, therapist or counselor to set some realistic goals and expectations with the elderly person and then using the animals to meet those goals. If the goal is to boost moods and feel less lonely, then a more casual interaction is needed. If the goals are more related to physical therapy, then more structure and guidance is needed to achieve them.

A doctor or therapist should be monitoring an elderly loved one’s progress and help the pet therapy sessions stay on track. If a senior’s progress needs adjusted, they can also make changes to the pet therapy treatment.

There are so many different ways to bring happiness, motivation and pleasure to an elderly loved
one’s life, but few are as effective and inspiring as guided pet therapy. There’s just something about animals that speaks to each person, no matter what their age or ability.


If you or an aging loved one are considering hiring home health care in Lilburn, GA, please contact the caring staff at Home Helpers, call (678) 430-8511.