There is nothing like the companionship of a four legged friend to ease my mind and quiet my soul. I'm dedicating this post to one of my favorite canines, "Chance," a Great Pyrenees, who left this Earth one year ago. While Chance was not an official therapy dog, he embodied some of the best qualities of therapy dogs everywhere. In doing so, he brought great richness to the lives of everyone in my family. When times are hard, I still see his big brown eyes and feel his thick fur beneath my fingers. He may no longer be here to care for us, but he has inspired me to champion the cause of therapy dogs in the world of eldercare.
Therapy dogs (and their handlers!) are consistently calm, confident and well socialized. Rather than merely tolerating new people, they are happy to be in social situations, and are specially trained to visit hospitals and assisted living facilities. They bring benefits to everyone, and particularly to elderly people who can no longer care for their own dogs.
I was a bit surprised when I asked my mother about her top criteria for eldercare, and she replied that she must have access to dogs! Clearly, she has a special fondness for these furry companions, but these four legged friends can bring these benefits to everyone:
- Calming presence. We know that petting dogs consistently lowers our blood pressure and calms our heart rates. If a person is angry, afraid or distressed, a therapy dog can be the best medicine.
- Pain relief. Stroking dogs has been shown to release endorphins that have the potential to block pain!
- Morale booster. Therapy dogs can help patients let go of their problems for a while, make assisted living facilities feel more like home, and bring back happy memories.
- Eldercare appropriate social stimulation. Therapy dogs and their handlers are attention grabbers in the moment, plus they offer something special to talk about later in the day.
PawsandHearts.org is one of many excellent organizations that devote themselves to bringing the healing benefits of therapy dogs to the elderly. They point to a study of nursing homes in New York, Missouri and Texas with compelling results: Medication costs dropped from an average of $3.80 per patient per day to $1.18 per patient per day when nursing homes allowed for pets to be introduced into patient's environments. Wow!
If you have a therapy dog story or resource that can benefit our EldercareABC community, please share by commenting on this blog!