How Therapy Dogs Can Improve Your Senior Loved One’s Life

Posted: 3/10/2023 10:00 AM by Interim HealthCare

Has your loved one recently been diagnosed with a long-term illness that doesn’t allow them to leave their house as much as they used to? If so, they likely quickly discovered it can be lonely from time to time–sometimes even depressing.

Even if your loved one is blessed to have visitors from family and friends, they may need a pick-me-up that medicine and traditional healthcare just can’t provide.

That’s where dog therapy can step in.

Yes, you read that correctly–dog therapy (or animal therapy) is a real therapeutic intervention that can positively affect health, well-being, depression, and quality of life for elderly patients. 

A visit from a dog may not be an actual prescription, however, it could be just what the doctor ordered. 

What is dog therapy for in-home care?

Believe it or not, there is an entire field dedicated to what is known as Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI) that is based on the idea that a human-animal bond is a powerful tool capable of impacting wellness.

Dog therapy can be used in medical or residential facilities in a casual visiting capacity. And when offered in conjunction with in-home healthcare services, dog therapy may be tailored to meet the patient's needs and can assist with goal-oriented interventions. 

Does it really work?

A visit from a therapy dog is much more than what meets the eye. According to Pet Partners, interaction with therapy animals in medical settings has been studied extensively and is associated with the following positive effects for seniors:

  • Improved recovery rates
  • Less fear and worry in patients
  • Decreased perceptions of pain
  • Comfort people with dementia
  • Promote socialization and engagement in older age
  • Decrease depression, anxiety, and irritability in seniors
  • Encourage positive perceptions related to a person’s health

The great thing about dog therapy is that seniors who may not physically be capable of owning a pet still have access to the healing benefits that a dog can bring. 

Who can benefit from in-home dog therapy?

Anyone who is struggling with mental or physical needs can benefit from in-home dog therapy on their own terms. The ideal candidates are those who are comfortable around animals and don’t have severe allergies. However, in-home dog therapy generally does not have many limits itself. Not only can the person who is receiving in-home care reap the benefits of having a furry friend visit them, the visit may also provide mental health relief to the patient’s caregiver, as well.

What does a typical dog therapy visit look like?

Dog therapy visits can be tailored to meet the needs of each individual. 

There are three common types of dogs used in dog therapy. “Facility Therapy Dogs” and “Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs” primarily assist physical and occupational therapists in meeting a person’s personal recovery goals. The most common type of therapy dog used specifically for in-home care is a “Therapeutic Visitation Dog.” 

During a visit from a Therapeutic Visition Dog, the dog and its handler will come to your home and introduce themselves to anyone participating in the visit. Most therapy dog sessions involve petting and talking to the dog, and if the patient is physically able, they could play with the dog with toys or even walk them around. It’s truly up to the comfort level of the patient for how they’d like to interact with the dog. Visits can last from 30-60 minutes.

Who provides dog therapy, and how can I get it set up for my loved one?

There are most likely several dog therapy services available in your area. However, it’s important to work with a certified therapy dog program because those dogs (and their handler) have been trained with strict instructions on providing the correct and appropriate therapy to patients with chronic illnesses. 

For the names and contact information of therapy dog groups that may do home visits, check out the American Kennel Club’s list of recognized dog therapy associations. You can also work directly with your homecare provider to arrange a dog therapy visit.

Interim HealthCare is happy to provide recommendations and resources for dog therapy groups in your area. 

Just reach out to us, and we’ll work closely with you and your loved one to find a certified dog therapy program near you.