Pets & Pet Therapy: Why a Wet Nose Can Be Good For You!

By November 1, 2017 June 21st, 2018 News

By Jamie Lancaster, Executive Director

At The Glen at Lake Oconee Village, we happily accept pets at our senior living community. And for a very good reason: we know that having a pet around can be good for our residents’ happiness and health!

Admit it. You probably have on clothing that has a reminder of your true best friend. It might be a black hair from your always cheerful black Labrador retriever. Or soft white strands from your elegant Persian cat who just jumped from your lap. Or even a feather from a talkative parrot.

In the U.S., 63% of all households own a pet—approximately 73 million dogs and 90.5 million cats. Pets even have their own holidays: September is Happy Healthy Cat Month and includes National Dog Week.

We love our pets, be they dogs, cats, birds, or other creatures. It’s been said that “a true friend leaves paw prints on your heart.”

Pets not only enrich our lives, but as we grow older, they actually offer health benefits. Scientific studies have shown that animals can improve human cardiovascular health, reduce stress, decrease loneliness and depression, and facilitate social interaction for people over 60. Residents of The Glen at Lake Oconee Village will tell you how much they value the companionship that a pet can provide.

In other words, our furry and feathered friends really do make us feel better!

Aging.Com and The Pets for the Elderly Foundation offer these findings about how pets can positively impact elder wellness:

  • Older dog owners visit the doctor less frequently than seniors who do not have a dog.
    Watching aquarium fish can decrease a person’s heart rate, increase skin temperature, and decrease muscle tension.
  • Owning a dog has been shown to increase survival time following a heart attack. Dog owners also tend to recover faster from surgery and illness and deal with stressful situations better
  • 30 minutes with a pet can enhance a person’s levels of the endorphins associated with happiness and wellbeing.
  • Pets can ease the loss of a loved one, and help fight off loneliness.

At The Glen, we know you don’t need a study to confirm how good it feels to snuggle with a pet, especially if you live alone or need a lift. Pets give an older person something positive to focus on, rather than physical problems. Pets help you make friends. They provide a sense of security. They help keep you active. Pets provide a reason to get up every morning and greet the day.

And pets themselves can benefit, as older owners often are retired and have more time to devote to their animals. Take the time to choose a pet that is right for you, in terms of size, energy level, and age of the pet. Adopting an older pet might be a great fit.

The Benefits of Pet Therapy

Pet therapy is just what it sounds like: the practice of using a pet as a form of companionship and treatment. Pet therapy can be offered in a retirement community, residential aged-care homes, hospices, rehabilitation centers and in a senior’s home. All kinds of animals can be used for pet therapy.

The Glen at Lake Oconee Village, for example, has partnered with K-9 Angels, a dog therapy group in the Lake Oconee area. Representatives from K-9 Angels bring dogs for visits to The Glen twice a month, allowing residents to interact with specially trained animals who must meet stringent requirements prior to being designated a therapy animal.

“Our residents love it when the pet therapy animals visit,” said The Glen at Lake Oconee Village Executive Director Jamie Lancaster. “Everyone’s eyes light up and smiles abound. It’s one of our most popular activities.”

Pet therapy offers seniors in assisted living and memory care several benefits, including:

  • Improved communication
  • Improved ability to reminisce
  • A feeling of connection and purpose
  • Mental stimulation through contact with pet handlers
  • Increased mobility from petting, brushing and stroking the pet

According to Alzheimers.net, while companionship is an obvious benefit, a well-timed pet visit may also help with anxiety and depression. It’s not uncommon to watch someone transition from emotionless to joyful when a pet enters the room, especially if it triggers pleasant memories.

In fact, research shows that even just 15 minutes with an animal releases chemicals in our brains that make us feel better!

So, whether it’s having a pet of your own, or considering the many benefits of pet therapy in a senior living setting, pets really are our best friends!

Located in Lake Oconee Village at 1070 Old Salem Road in Greensboro, Georgia, The Glen offers resort-style senior living including Independent Living, Assisted Living, or Memory Care for a monthly fee. Please call our office at (706) 999-3535 if you have questions about pet therapy at The Glen, or any of our other dynamic wellness programs.

Jamie Lancaster is the executive director of The Glen. A native of Georgia, Lancaster has extensive experience in senior living that began a decade ago when she helped college volunteers coordinate senior proms, Wii bowling and pet therapy in assisted living communities. Most recently she served as executive director with a retirement community in Alabama. During her tenure, Jamie oversaw a major improvement in the community’s financial structure and also greatly increased employee satisfaction. She earlier served as activities director of the community, and obtained her nursing home administrator’s license in 2009. Jamie is also one of the first in the nation to be named a Certified Director of Assisted Living (CDAL) by The Senior Living Certification Commission (SLCC).