We all feel down from time to time. Sadness is a normal part of life as we deal with everyday struggles, stress, anxiety or the loss of loved ones. However, when these sad feelings become more intense, make you feel helpless, hopeless, and interfere with your daily life, you may be experiencing clinical depression.
For seniors, clinical depression is a common condition, but this doesn’t mean it’s a normal part of aging. According to WebMD, late-life depression affects around 6 million Americans age 65 or older. And, depression impacts the elderly differently than younger people. It often occurs in conjunction with a variety of other medical conditions and disabilities, and can last for longer periods of time.
Pet Therapy Treats Depression in Seniors
Studies have shown that one of the best defenses against depression could be as simple as stroking the fur of an animal companion. Pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, is recognized by the National Institute of Mental Health as a viable option for treating depression and other mood disorders. Interaction with pets has been known to reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and offset feelings of depression.
Many senior living communities today are recognizing the benefits of pet therapy for depression and other conditions for their residents. Some of the ways pets can alleviate depression in seniors include:
Provide unconditional love. Pets don’t judge us, and they offer uncomplicated love. Seniors don’t have to worry about an animal talking back or offering unwanted advice; they can simply just enjoy the moment and sort through their feelings while enjoying some much-needed companionship.
Offer a soothing presence. Animals have an uncanny sense when it comes to knowing when we are feeling “off”. And, studies have shown that pet owners tend to have lower blood pressure and heart rate before and after completing stressful mental tasks.
Modify behavior. When seniors are depressed, pets can help alter some of the negative behaviors they may exhibit as a result of feeling sad. Animals can alleviate feelings of agitation, as being near them helps slow our breath and thoughts.
Engage in physical activities. Many seniors don’t get enough regular physical activity. Dogs need to be walked, cats need playtime with toys – both great ways to get seniors up and out of their chairs. Plus, performing daily activities with pets provides a routine, another key in reducing depression.
Present a distraction. It’s difficult to stay sad when a dog comes running up to you with a goofy grin, or when a cat nudges you with his head, purring happily. Animals can help distract from your depression simply by being their warm, furry selves.
Promote touch. Touch has amazing healing powers; in fact, touching actually can stop certain regions of the brain from responding to threat clues. Simply stroking a dog or cat can lower blood pressure while boosting feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine.
Provide feelings of purpose. Depression often sets in when seniors feel like they no longer are needed or that they have no important responsibilities. However, with pet ownership comes a purpose in life. Even for those seniors who feel like they can’t deal with any added responsibility, studies show that taking care of a pet provides value and importance, allowing them to feel capable of more than they may think they can handle.