A companion dog increases their senior owner's social circle, motivates them to explore life more confidently, and provides structure and purpose to their lives.
Owning a companion dog provides seniors with improved physical health, unconditional mental support, and a sense of security.
Before deciding on a companion dog, consider whether your senior loved one has the physical activity level and right living situation for a medium-sized or smaller-sized breed.
As people age, they may experience a range of physical and emotional challenges that impact their overall well-being. Older adults are more likely to encounter depression, anxiety, and social isolation. This is where companion dogs come in to provide an invaluable source of support to seniors.
Aside from companionship, many people wonder how exactly companion dogs improve the lives of seniors. This comprehensive guide provides an in-depth look at the therapeutic benefits that companion dogs offer to seniors and the factors to consider before welcoming a companion dog.
What Is a Companion Dog?
Companion dogs are the same as emotional support dogs. They serve an invaluable purpose in the lives of individuals who suffer from various physical or mental challenges.
Although companion animals may be dogs, cats, birds, and horses, dogs are the most common option. According to the American Kennel Club, individuals must acquire a mental health professional prescription to qualify for a certified companion dog.
Pet Dog vs. Companion Dog vs. Service Dog
While dogs provide you with unconditional love and make you laugh with their silly antics, some have specific jobs and legal rights, while others don't have the same privilege.
Check out the following differences between a pet dog, a companion dog, and a service dog.
Pet dogs are simply family dogs. Although they offer support and mental health benefits to their owners, they don't have any special rights and privileges when entering public places and transportation.
Although companion dogs do not require special training, they require some basic obedience training. They also need registration, and their owners need a mental health professional prescription for mental or emotional disabilities.
Their rights differ from state to state. Some states allow them to accompany their owners in public places and on public transportation, while others don't.
Service dogs require specific training to assist their owners with a disability with daily tasks that make their lives easier and more independent. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs have the legal right to accompany their owners in all public places and public transportation.
In addition, their owners have the right to rent a home without paying for pet deposits since service dogs are not pets but necessary aides to their day-to-day activities.
10 Therapeutic Benefits of Companion Dogs
Many people know that having a dog provides companionship and entertainment, but they may be unaware of the therapeutic benefits of companion dogs.
A companion dog offers 10 major therapeutic benefits to seniors, ranging from physical health benefits to better sleep.
More Considerate of Others
According to the Professor of Psychology and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, John Cacioppo:
"Humans evolved to become such a powerful species, in large part due to mutual aid and protection and the changes in the brain that proved adaptive in social interactions. When we don't have mutual aid and protection, we are more likely to become focused on our own interests and welfare. That is, we become more self-centered."
Seniors who live alone often have feelings of loneliness and isolation. As a result, many become absorbed into their world of needs and concerns. A companion dog reminds their senior owner that there is more to their lives and brings out the compassionate side of these individuals. A companion dog's active presence encourages seniors to become considerate and caring of others.
Physical Health Benefits
Spending time with a companion dog provides many physical health benefits for seniors. Scientific correlation studies demonstrate that pet owners have lower blood pressure levels, better lipid profiles, and a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than people without pets. In general, senior pet owners over the age of 65 require 30 percent fewer doctor visits.
Companion dogs also encourage their owners to become more active, providing ample opportunities for walking, playing, and other physical activities. Even though it doesn't seem much, every little bit helps. Hauling bags of dog kibble, bending down to pick up dog poop, and carrying the little pooches all count towards cardio and muscular exercises that keep seniors strong and healthy.
Reduced Anxiety and Depression
The happiness a dog brings to the lives of their owners is invaluable. Having someone in your life who loves and cares for you unconditionally does wonders for your emotional state.
Seniors living alone often experience isolation. Studies also show that petting and playing with a companion dog helps seniors manage their stress more effectively. These active interactions promote serotonin and dopamine secretions and give seniors the calm and relaxed feeling they need. As a result, these seniors are better at coping with stress and unfamiliar situations.
Improved Social Interaction
Having a companion dog encourages seniors to become more social and active. They are more likely to go for walks, participate in activities at local parks, and run errands nearby. These outings allow them to meet people, strike up conversations and exchange pleasantries and stories of their beloved pups.
After all, who doesn't love a good dog story? These positive experiences help seniors create and maintain meaningful connections with their neighbors, friends, and family.
Higher Self-Esteem and Life Satisfaction
Seniors live a life of rejection, with people constantly telling them they are too old to do things independently. They often feel they are not valuable members of society and the world. However, a companion dog offers unconditional love and support like a little cheerleader. This unblemished loyalty helps seniors see their worth and feel valued.
Having a companion dog also gives seniors something to live for every morning they wake up. The physical presence of the beloved pet makes seniors feel more alive and allows them to experience life in a much more meaningful way. Being accountable to a pup motivates seniors to put more time and effort into completing their daily activities and feel proud of their achievements.
Better Sleep at Night
Many things happen in seniors' minds at night that lead to insomnia. The fear of someone breaking into their home at night, anxiety about their lives, painful health conditions that flare up during the night, and stress about their family members are just some things that keep them awake.
With a companion dog by their sides, seniors feel safe and secure while they sleep. The calming presence of the pup releases the oxytocin neurotransmitter so that seniors have an altered state of pain perception, making them feel more relaxed and comfortable. Sleeping with a companion dog lowers their cortisol stress hormone levels as well as promotes better quality sleep.
One thing many people disregard in getting good sleep at night is whether they are tired enough. After a day of walking and grooming the dog, socializing with people, and playing active games with their pup, most senior owners are more than ready to hit the hay.
Some people think that it's no big deal that seniors lose sleep at night. However, sleep plays an important role in memory functioning. Constant sleep deprivation leads to long-term memory loss and poor overall brain functioning. Some studies suggest that it increases dementia risk by as much as 20 percent. When seniors have a companion dog, they sleep better at night, improving their memory and reducing the risk of cognitive diseases.
Improved Memory Functioning
Is it time to feed the little pooch yet? Is it time to go for a walk? When is the next vet appointment time? The constant presence of a companion dog and the necessity to remember specific tasks helps seniors improve their memory functioning.
According to the University of Michigan, owning a dog delays the brain aging process in adults over the age of 65. In the past, many studies confirmed that long-term elevated cortisol levels lead to poor overall cognitive functioning, social cognition, brain processing speed, spatial memory, language memory, and long-term memory. The presence of a companion dog lowers stress and cortisol levels, helping seniors maintain their overall cognitive functions while reducing their risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Many intellectuals and successful people say that a daily walk helps them think. By pumping more blood to the brain, it receives more oxygen and nutrients to allow it to function correctly. Seniors who take daily walks with their companion dogs benefit from this natural brain power boost.
Better Immune System
Just like children who play with pets have a stronger immune system than those who don't have a pet, seniors who take care of their companion dogs benefit from the same effect. By exposing themselves to bacteria and germs from their companion animal, seniors develop a stronger immune system that helps them fight illnesses better.
The immune system is a reflection of a person's overall health. When seniors get regular physical exercises, mental stimulation, and proper sleep at night, they all contribute to a more robust immune system that helps them live longer and healthier lives.
Sense of Security
Having someone to look after and care for is comforting and reassuring, especially for seniors living alone. Owning a companion dog gives them this feeling of security. Knowing that their pooch alerts them of any presence of danger or stranger allows them to feel safe in their home.
One of the reasons why seniors stay home instead of venturing out is because of their fear that something bad may happen to them. Having a dog companion dog by their side eliminates this worry and allows them to explore more confidently.
Provide Structure and Purpose to Life
Owning a canine companion offers seniors an abundance of joy and purpose each day, as their pups thrive on a steady routine that ensures that they eat at a certain hour, go for walks at a certain time, and get enough sleep. This structure gives seniors something to look forward to when they go to bed at night.
Furthermore, this daily schedule helps alleviate loneliness by providing seniors with regular goals to complete.
Factors To Consider Before Getting a Companion Dog
After hearing all the benefits of owning a companion dog, you probably want to get one for your senior loved ones. Before making a decision, there are certain factors that you need to consider.
Physical Activity Level
One of the first things to consider when getting a companion dog is your senior's physical activity level.
Larger dogs are not the best choice if they live alone or have mobility issues. Active breeds that require a lot of physical activities are also not great options. Instead, smaller breeds with low energy levels are the best choice, as they need much less exercise and enjoy cuddling more.
Another factor to consider when adopting a companion dog is your senior's living situation.
Do they live in an apartment, a house, or an assisted living facility? How big is their home? Is there any yard space for their companion dogs to run around? If you don't have access to outdoor space and the living space is small, smaller breeds like Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels are excellent options to consider.
Do Your Own Research
Having a companion dog offers seniors many benefits, from companionship and emotional support to better sleep and improved brain functioning. However, it is important to consider the senior's physical activity level and living situation before getting a companion dog. With the right pup, they are sure to enjoy the companionship and reap all the benefits.
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