By Kelsey Jochum, BSW, Certified Concierge Care Advisor

Anyone who has ever loved a pet understands the value they add to our lives. But what you may be unaware of is just how many health benefits a person can experience through interaction with animals. Whether it be pet ownership or periodic interaction with animals, there is consistent evidence that humans, and seniors in particular thrive both mentally and physically when they have the ability to spend time with animals.

Most commonly, this involves dogs and cats which many of us have chosen as companion pets at some point in our lives, but it can also include any animal that a person feels special affection toward. If a senior maintains enough independence to care for their own pet, this responsibility can help to boost their self-esteem and give a sense of purpose in caring for their pet. Feeding, petting, and grooming a pet on a daily basis increases a person’s motor skills and keeps them more active. Going for walks with a dog provides a great source of exercise which improves mobility and promotes an overall healthier lifestyle.

Even when a senior finds it too difficult to care for a pet on their own, they can still benefit greatly from routine interaction with animals in the form of pet therapy visits wherever they may be living. Animals can improve socialization in seniors, especially those experiencing memory loss and dementia who may have difficulty communicating with words. Animals listen without judgement and give unbiased attention, which can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression due to the gentle nature of the relationship. They provide emotional stability during otherwise stressful situations and have been shown to lower blood pressure in seniors through interactions as simple as petting or touching the animal. These visits can also provide opportunities to reminisce and stimulate memories of past relationships with pets, all of which promotes mental and psychological health.

For all these reasons, it is becoming more common for senior living facilities to incorporate some type of pet therapy visits as part of their recreational activity programs. Some may partner with local groups or humane societies to bring in pets on a routine basis. Some smaller facilities and adult family homes may even have a house pet that is cared for by the owner and residents can interact with.

If caring for and being around animals is something you valued throughout your life, make sure to research ways that you can continue these beneficial relationships as you age.  Here are just a couple groups in the Seattle area that may be able to help: Project Canine of Seattle (206-444-2904) and Pet Partners of Bellevue (425-679-5500).