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Can Animal Assisted Therapy help lonely residents?

May 23, 2018

If you are looking for a fun and engaging way to reduce loneliness amongst care home residents, then Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) or Pet Assisted Therapy (PAT) could be just what you are looking for.

The therapy involves bringing animals into your care home for residents to pet and sit with and has been shown to significantly reduce feelings of loneliness.

This is important because loneliness is an all too common problem amongst care home residents.

In fact, in her thesis ‘Loneliness in care homes: a neglected area of research?’, Christina R Victor found that severe loneliness among elderly care home residents was at least twice as common as among elderly people living in the community: 22–42% for the care home population compared with 10% for the community population.

Fortunately, Animal Assisted Therapy has now been proven to tackle this issue. In a study called The Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Loneliness in an Elderly Population in Long-Term Care Facilities, by Marian R. Banks and William A. Banks, AAT was shown to have significantly reduced loneliness in residents of long-term care facilities compared to a group of residents that had not had AAT.

Why is tackling loneliness so important?

Addressing loneliness is a very serious matter for care homes and their residents, not only because loneliness can affect emotional wellbeing, but also because it has been found to have a very detrimental impact on physical health.

In fact, not only has loneliness been found to increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke, as well as the risk of high blood pressure, it has also been proven to increase the likelihood of death by 26%.

What is more, loneliness has been shown to put people at greater risk of cognitive decline, with one study finding that lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia.

Fortunately, AAT has been shown to be beneficial for dementia sufferers too. In fact, in one study called Animal-Assisted Intervention and Dementia: A Systematic Review, animal assisted therapy was shown to have had a strong positive effect on the ‘social behaviors, physical activity, and dietary intake in dementia patients and a positive effect on agitation/aggression and quality of life’.

Interested in Animal Assisted Therapy?

If you are interested in bringing Pet Assisted Therapy to your care home, then there are a lot of options out there.

For example, Pets As Therapy is a national charity that provides therapeutic animal visits to hospices, nursing and care homes.

Whilst Dementia Dog is a charitable collaboration between Alzheimer Scotland and Dogs for Good that brings together leading dementia support services with the provision of highly trained dogs.

Of course, it doesn’t just have to be traditional pets that you bring into your care home. Some care homes have chosen to bring alpacas in to see residents, whilst others have opted for large or miniature horses.

Of course, if you want to get even more from the proven emotional benefits of having pets in your care home, you can go one step further and allow residents to keep their own pets when moving in.

In fact, The Society for Companion Animal Studies has launched the Pets for Life campaign which urges care providers to do just this.

Moving into a care home can be a very stressful experience for some people, so supporting their mental and physical well-being with ongoing animal companionship seems like a win-win policy for all concerned –  pets included!