Sugar Kisses and the Other Benefits of Pet Therapy
By Marcia Turner, Eternal Spring of Gilbert Senior Living
As an Executive Director of an Assisted Living Community, I would be asked, on many occasions, why I choose to spend my Sundays being a “Pet Partner” and visiting residents with my beloved 4-legged fur babies. The answer I would give was quite simple. My visits to see hospice residents personally brought me much joy.
I loved to witness the smiles, the wet kisses, the laughter, and the love that my animals brought to those we visited. It truly was such a treat for me to just be the lady that brought her dog Molly or Sierra to visit. I didn’t have the pressure of being anyone special and I only had to be the nice lady who came to visit the residents. After each weekly visit, I left grateful and honored to have experienced the connection and joy my beloved pet would bring to so many amazing residents.
One resident in particular loved when Molly visited and gave her, as she referred to them, “sugar kisses.” It never failed, no matter how sad or sometimes distraught this resident appeared to be in her apartment upon my arrival, my Molly never failed to bring a smile and brighten the day for Ms. Jane. Those visits were so special and impacted not only how I felt at the time, but the experience impacted me in a very personal/professional way. No matter where my career has taken me as a leader of a Senior Living Community, I have maintained my stance of being an advocate for residents to bring their special fur babies to live with them.
Science confirms what people have known for decades—pets can improve our quality of life. Just their presence can help with depression, loneliness, and give a purpose to life. Stroking the coat of a cat or rubbing the belly of a canine doesn’t just feel good to the pet; it also creates a chemical chain reaction in the human brain lowering cortisol (the fight-or-flight hormone) and raising serotonin levels (the feel good hormone). The immediate affect is lowered heart rate, blood pressure, and stress. Long term, pet and human companionship can lower cholesterol levels and possibly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Senior Living and Pet Care
Allowing a person to keep their furry companion when moving into a senior community sounds so simple, why wouldn’t you? But in reality, it is another life that has to have its needs met as well. Veterinarian Dr. Kevin Sievers, of Duvall, Washington, states the importance of the pets’ needs: “Humans benefit greatly from the companionship of a pet. An animal in the life of a senior can give them new meaning and improve their well-being, so it is important for seniors to have a pet in their living environment. I also think it’s very important to remember the health needs of the pets. Seniors can forget to properly medicate or even feed their pets. Senior living communities need to be able to help their residents care for their pets to ensure the health and happiness of both the seniors and their pets.” Pet friendly senior living communities are on board with this service and some have a Pet Care Coordinator to help ensure all the pets are well cared for, up-to-date on vaccines, and receive veterinary care. This ensures the pet’s daily needs of food and exercise are met even when their senior owner is not able to perform these responsibilities.
Quality of Life
More than 84 million U.S. homes have a pet, according to the National Pet Owners Survey, and in many of those homes, pets are a big part of the family. However, there are several barriers that can prevent people from spending time with their furry friends, including outdated housing rules and limited green space in communities.
“The presence of pets can help make people healthier—both physically and mentally,” said Mark Johnson, president of Mars Petcare North America. “We hope to inspire more cities to take real action that leads to a better quality of life for people and pets in their communities.”
Consider these benefits of pets, along with research from the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition that shows a number of ways pets make people and communities happier and healthier, and visit BetterCitiesForPets.com to learn more and to find out how to help make your city more pet-friendly.
Sundowners Syndrome and Pets
- Provide Stress Relief—As people get older, pets continue to be there for them. Even in the face of significant stressors—such as the loss of a loved one—pets are by their owners’ sides to help them through times of grief.
- Encourage Owners to Be Active—People who walk their dog tend to get more physical activity more days a week than those who don’t. Pet ownership can even make a difference in the survival rate for heart attacks. In a Waltham study, 94 percent of heart patients with pets survived serious heart attacks for at least a year, compared to 72 percent without pets.
- Offer Therapy in Times of Need—Disasters can take many forms, and people need ways to cope and make sense of it all. That’s where the healing power of pets comes in, therapy pets can be a source of healing for people coping with hardships.
- Encourage Socialization for Pets and Owners—Pets help people connect. In fact, dog owners are five times more likely to know their neighbors than non-dog owners. While dogs socialize with people and other furry friends at the dog park, their owners have a chance to build relationships with other local dog owners. People also tend to feel safer when walking their dog.
- Eases the Minds—Pets are beneficial to people of all ages, but especially young children and older adults. People with pets tend to have less anxiety and loneliness, as well as greater self-esteem and social skills.
Late afternoon and early evening can be difficult for some people with Alzheimer’s disease. They may experience sundowning—restlessness, agitation, irritability, or confusion that can begin or worsen as daylight begins to fade. The companionship of a pets can help comfort and relax to a person suffering with sundowners.
The San Diego Humane Society’s Pet-Assisted Therapy Program has noticed patients displayed improved appetite, increased socialization and cognitive stimulation after interactions with pets. “Animals provide unconditional love and emotional support in a way that is unparalleled. Our Pet-Assisted Therapy program brings the joys of animals to people who are otherwise unable to have an animal in their life, such as those living in facilities such as convalescent homes, hospitals, mental health centers, children’s homes, and juvenile detention centers,” says Judith Eisenberg, Pet-Assisted Therapy Coordinator for the San Diego Humane Society. “What an animal can give and teach is a powerful source of healing and personal connection.”
Pet therapy is an excellent way to provide an extra dimension of happiness to senior citizens.
Eternal Spring of Gilbert is a pet friendly community with no breed restriction, although a meet and greet with the staff is required to ensure safety and a good fit for all. Come discover a vibrant community that supports, engages, and encourages the whole individual. We offer a full range of Senior Living options and high-quality amenities to meet your personal needs, and life-enriching programs and activities that provide something for everyone.
Eternal Spring of Gilbert, located at 940 East Williams Field Road in Gilbert, is now accepting suite reservations. To learn about our opening specials call 480-812-8100, email: email@example.com or visit eternalspringofgilbert.com. It can be different…let Eternal Spring of Gilbert show you how!
A Hawthorn Court at Ahwatukee welcomes all pets to visit regularly and brighten the day for our residents but is not able to accommodate pets to reside at the community. At Hawthorn Court at Ahwatukee, residents enjoy an active, engaging lifestyle that promotes wellness and independence. It is our goal to keep our residents linked to resources and opportunities that will fulfill their needs and interests.
To learn about all the life enriching opportunities for residents or to schedule a tour, give us a call at 480-598-1224. Hawthorn Court at Ahwatukee is located at 13822 South 46th Place, off Ray Road. More information is available at Hawthorncourtseniorliving.com.
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