The Laureate Way

Articles to Help Families and Older Adults Manage the Challenges of Aging

How Therapy Animals Can Help in Senior Living

How Therapy Animals Can Help in Senior Living

A few years ago, a member joined the staff at Oak Hill Terrace who is quite furry! He is a German Shepherd/Border Collie mix named Riley. His owner is Executive Director Robert Best at Oak Hill Terrace and has Riley come for pet visits. Robert and Riley make up the dream team and demonstrate how therapy animals can help in senior living communities, especially during today’s pandemic.

Riley is a well-behaved canine who quickly found his way into the hearts of all the people who live or work at Oak Hill Terrace. He is specially trained as a therapy dog brings smiles and laughter throughout our retirement community – and that is the best therapy in the world!

How Therapy Animals Can Help Senior Living Communities

For seniors, the companionship that a dog or cat can provide is obvious. There is nothing like returning home to a joyful welcome that you get from a dog or cat that says you are the best person in the world! As you age, there are far less opportunities for this type of approval.

Anyone who is over the age of say, 70, knows just how precious social connections are. Now, especially, connections to former colleagues have become weaker, friends may have moved or passed, and unless you are intensely engaged in small group activities in the community, it is easy to feel isolated some of the time.

Purpose and social activity, even during COVID-19

In our communities, it is common for residents to move in with cats and dogs. Many of these animal companions quickly become very popular as they go about their daily routines.

Animals provide a purpose to get up in the morning. Dog owners of any age know well that having a dog lets you meet neighbors who you would not have another way to meet. We also can tell you how easy it is to get the dog’s name right and forget the owner’s name! Even if just an exchange of light conversation, the human interaction counteracts the social isolation our culture creates for older adults.

Getting Your Steps In

Dogs in particular help us get up and be active even in the dead of winter. There is a structure to your day as the dog does need to be let out, needs exercise, playtime and time asleep at your feet or in your lap.

Of course, the need to walk the dog also keeps us moving and strong. A study found that beyond the exercise that dog owners get walking their dog, they tend to exercise more than people who do not own dogs.

Dogs were found to better walking companions than humans. In a 12-week study of 54 older adults at an assisted-living community, some people selected a friend or spouse as a walking companion, while others took a bus daily to a local animal shelter, where they were assigned a dog to walk.

Walking speed among the dog walkers increased by 28 percent, compared with just 4 percent among the human walkers.

Animals and One’s Memory

For individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the affect of a dog can be amazing. People who rarely talk will suddenly speak a full sentence. Those who get agitated at the end of the day can become calm petting a dog or cat. The bond we have with animals can be magical. 

Enjoy the Moment

Dogs have that capacity to find joy chasing a ball, playing with a squeak toy or strolling around a senior community looking for attention. Petting a dog or cat can have profound affects on anyone’s mood. In addition to the pets some of our residents have, we welcome them in our senior communities for both simple visits and therapy sessions.

Oak Hill Terrace Senior Community Waukesha, WI