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Emotional Support Animals and Seniors


Submitted by Richard M. Roller of Pearson Bollman Law

Most of us know what a service animal is, but the use of emotional support animals is becoming more and more common. So, what qualifies an emotional support animal? An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides benefits to a person who has an emotional or mental health disorder. In order to be characterized as an emotional support animal, documentation from a health professional must be obtained for the animal. Most commonly, these animals are dogs, but other animals can serve as emotional support animals. It is becoming more evident that these emotional support animals can provide some real benefits to the health and wellness of the senior population. Whether depressed or dealing with ongoing disabilities or chronic illnesses, emotional support animals can be one of the best treatment options out there.

Emotional support animals and physical health

Emotional support animals can provide a reason for seniors to get out and remain active. For example, a dog needs to be walked. Walking the dog provides the senior with physical exercise. It is abundantly clear exercise is a much-needed part of a healthy lifestyle for seniors and can even improve mobility. The American Heart Association has even stated that people with heart disease who own a dog outlive those who do not. Similar health benefits can be found for other chronic illnesses such as diabetes. In arthritis sufferers, merely petting an animal can help with circulation and loosening the joints in the arms and hands.

Emotional support animals and mental health

Having an emotional support animal also helps to reduce depression and anxiety. Studies have shown it can reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase serotonin, a feel-good hormone. Major triggers for depression in elderly people are loneliness and isolation. With an emotional support animal, many seniors often find companionship and friendship that helps them to cope with loneliness and isolation and can even alleviate depression for the senior. It can also help in coping with a loss of a spouse.

In addition, having an emotional support animal can provide mental stimulation for seniors. This can come in the form of talking about animals or even reading about them. This is of great benefit to those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Often, those with dementia or Alzheimer’s suffer from bouts of agitation; emotional support dogs can help to calm them down. Even when it comes to meals, those who suffer from loss of appetite due to these diseases have had improved appetite having an emotional support animal.

Types of emotional support animals
As previously stated, dogs are the most common of the emotional support animals, but there are other options. Cats, like dogs, are a fairly common choice. Birds can be an option for people who do not have a lot of space. Birds also do not require a lot of maintenance, which makes them ideal for seniors. Birds come in many varieties, so be sure to research to find the right bird. Fish are an option for people who may be allergic to furry pets. The companionship offered by two legged or four legged pets is not there, but watching the fish can be calming and relaxing. There are also smaller furry animals that do not readily come mind such as rabbits, hamsters, mice, and even domestic rats. These animals also don’t require a lot of space, but can be handled and many are affectionate animals, good for companionship.

The acceptance for emotional support animals and seniors is fairly recent, but studies on the effectiveness of these animals continue to be surfacing. Service animals have proven to be of great assistance to people with disabilities over the years, but the benefits do not stop with service animals. If you or a senior loved one is experiencing chronic illness or mental disorders, consider talking to the family, doctor, and veterinarian about getting an emotional support animal. This may greatly improve quality of life and may increase the length of life.

Pearson Bollman Law specializes in elder law and helps families plan for long-term care. If you have any questions or would like to register for one of our workshops on “Asset Protection for Seniors,” please feel free to contact Richard M. Roller at 563-355-8345.