It’s a universally acknowledged truth that almost everyone, regardless of age, finds a unique joy in the companionship of pets. But did you know that for seniors, this bond with animals can transcend mere affection and play a role in their overall well-being? Memory care residents in assisted living facilities may find unexpected benefits by undergoing animal-assisted therapy and developing a routine alongside a new pet.

Understanding Animal-Assisted Therapy in Memory Care

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is an innovative approach to memory care, harnessing the therapeutic potential of animals to enhance the well-being of seniors. This form of therapy typically involves interactions with trained animals like dogs, cats, and horses – under the guidance of a qualified therapist to ensure everything is safe and secure. The animals used in AAT are carefully selected for their temperament and trained to provide comfort and support to individuals in need. This therapeutic interaction helps bring joy and companionship to the elderly while simultaneously acting as a medium to facilitate various aspects of their care and therapy in a nurturing and non-threatening environment.

Benefits of AAT for Seniors and Memory Care Residents

Cognitive Stimulation: Interaction with animals can stimulate memory and cognitive functions in seniors, encouraging them to recall past experiences and engage in the present moment.
Physical Health and Well-being: Regular engagement in AAT has the benefit of encouraging physical activity without the added baggage that intense workouts or dedicated regiments bring. Simple acts like petting or walking animals can enhance fine motor skills and overall physical health.
Emotional Health: The presence of calm and loving animals often brings a sense of comfort and reduces feelings of loneliness in memory care residents. Unconditional love from animals uplifts moods and reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Social Interaction and Engagement: Collaborative AAT sessions with other residents, staff, and therapists can help seniors who struggle to engage in their community from feeling isolated and alone.
Stress Reduction: The calming effects of animals on the human psyche are well documented. Their presence can lower blood pressure and stress hormones the body produces, helping calm residents with memory issues.
Sense of Purpose: Caring for animals, whether a long-term pet or a short-term furry friend in AAT, gives seniors without responsibilities a renewed sense of purpose and goals to achieve.

Benefits of Pet Therapy for Memory Care Residents

Owning a pet in a memory care setting can bring a structured routine to the lives of residents. Pet care responsibilities, such as feeding, grooming, and walking, introduce a consistent schedule, which is particularly beneficial for those with memory impairments. Set routines help maintain their cognitive functions by instilling a sense of time and responsibility. Furthermore, taking care of a pet can evoke memories of nurturing, enhancing their connection to the present and providing a sense of normalcy and purpose in their daily lives.

Feeding: Managing feeding times for pets encourages residents to remember and adhere to their own mealtimes, promoting regular eating habits. Additionally, feeding and providing for a pet is a fantastic way to give seniors a sense of purpose and motivation to take on the day.

Grooming: The act of grooming a pet, like brushing fur, mirrors personal grooming habits. It can help maintain personal hygiene routines for the resident and contribute to a sense of responsibility.

Walking/Exercise:Walking a pet or engaging in joyous play provides much-needed physical exercise. Like much of the population, seniors enjoy physical activity more when it is not solely viewed as a chore or daily task.

When integrating animal-assisted therapy in dementia care settings, safety and responsibility concerns are at the forefront. No one wants the presence of a pet to cause pain, suffering, or injuries to either resident or animal. Staff members play a key role in overseeing interactions to ensure both the residents’ and animals’ well-being. Staff can assist in managing tasks that may be challenging for residents, such as administering medication to pets or handling them during more vigorous activities. Staff can also provide guidance and reminders for daily pet care routines, ensuring a safe and positive experience for all.

A Banyan Residence is an assisted living and memory care center in Venice, Florida. Contact us today to schedule a tour.