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Therapy Dogs in Elder Care

Therapy Dogs have been introduced as a part of patient care through Elder care and on a more informal basis at retirement homes, nursing homes, and assisted living homes to provide warmth, joy, and friendship to older adults.

Labrador retriever
Photo by Le Vu on Unsplash

Elder care is health and personal care designed to address the needs of the elderly. It encompasses a wide range of assistance options such as a person visiting an older adult in their home,someone delivering groceries, preparing meals or helping to tidy the house, someone doing yard work, or assisting with bill paying and other common chores. For elderly patients still living at home but with more advanced problems, health care providers can administer medications or assist with bathing. Elder care patients may live in assisted living facilities where care is provided for bedridden patients or those incapable of living on their own.

How Therapy Dogs Help

Therapy Dogs are wonderful friends for lonely older patients to hug and hold on to. They are recognized as a powerful healing force and a popular form of therapy in many long-term care facilities. They serve as reminders of earlier vibrant lives when the family was still together and bring up happy memories of more active times.

For seniors in Elder care centers a visit from a Therapy Dog is a welcome interruption to an otherwise boring and tedious routine. Playing with the dogs, patting them or just watching them is a happy and welcome break in the day.

Therapy Dogs Love To Be Around New People

Therapy Dogs Don’t Merely Tolerate New People; They Are Happy and Exuberant to Be in New Social Situations.

They bring the benefits of joy, friendship, and physical contact to all who feel lonely and isolated. They parcel out the much-needed attention and camaraderie that the elderly feel removed from especially if they used to have pets of their own. They come in all sizes and the most common breeds are Labrador retriever, French bulldog, Poodle and Pomeranian.

Therapy Dogs Are Great For Alzheimer’s Patients

Even Alzheimer’s patients can recognize a dog. They seem to understand that it is okay to interact with them in a pleasurable way. The dog soothes them and it has been noted that some patients eat better and focus on their tasks better after a Therapy Dog has visited. Patients who are restless and have trouble sleeping are calmer and sleep better after a dog visit.

AARP champions animal assisted therapy and the use of Therapy Dogs. In their Pet News they reference an article by Erik Lacitas, a Seattle Times staff reporter from the Swedish/Edmonds Hospital dog cam website. The Therapy Dogs in their program have small video cameras attached to their heads as they make their hospital rounds to record patient visits. You can see the videos on the hospital website.

Therapy Dogs Have an Ability to Touch Elder Care Patients Who Have Not Responded to Other Types of Therapy

There are many reports of patients who have been unresponsive and completely withdrawn for long periods of time speaking their first words in years when they see a Therapy Dog.

One family considering Elder care for their mother asked her what her top priority would be for living in a facility. She told them it was the ability to be with dogs.

The Pet Information Bureau in Washington D.C, believes “Pet ownership is especially important in increasing an interest in life” among the elderly. Caring for a pet distances seniors from focusing on their own problems.

Dogs (also cats, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, fish and turtles) provide companionship and relieve boredom for countless seniors. They eliminate that pervasive sense of “What’s the use?” or “Who cares?” Pets provide interaction. The ability to stroke or pet an animal or the fascination of watching it as it swims, crawls, or hops forms a friendly connection. Watching it eat or hearing it chirp adds to the assurance that the older adult is not alone.

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