Isolation and loneliness are the most important causes for failing health of the elderly population globally. Pets offer an amicable solution to this issue. They have always been one of the best companions of elderly people and offer a plethora of advantages. The benefits of animal ownership for seniors have been well known and documented for ages. Research, too, reinstates and reinforces this concept.
Pets for elderly not only provide companionship but also improve the quality of life substantially for seniors. This is particularly true in the context of people with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Patients with PD experience a variety of impairments including gait freezing and movement restrictions which make it difficult to sustain alone. Pets help them overcome this and play a vital role in PD rehabilitation.
Usually, cats and dogs are the most common pets the elderly have in their homes. However, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and turtles are also popular. Having a pet animal provides numerous benefits-
- Reduces risk of cardiac disease, blood pressure and also lowers cholesterol
- Combats stress and anxiety
- Thwarts loneliness and alleviates boredom
- Lowers signs of depression by giving a sense of ownership
- Enables mood enhancements
- Encourages physical activity in seniors
- Assists in performing daily activities
- Bestows a greater sense of worth
- Offers a sense of security
A variety of therapies are included in Parkinson’s Support Program for rehabilitating PD patients. This ensures they are as independent as much as possible despite the constraints of this
neurodegenerative disease. Pet-Assisted Therapy or Pet Therapy is one of them. For this, usually trained service dogs are deployed. These dogs not only become trustful companions of PD patients but also enhance their motor abilities granting them more freedom and new meaningful perspectives in their everyday life. Pet Therapy offers the following functionalities-
- Mobility assistance – Services dogs can be given training for pushing wheelchairs and moving them up sliding ramps and onto sidewalks. They can also assist their masters to get in or out of their wheelchairs.
- Relief from stress and anxiety: PD patients are likely to have several emotional and mental health problems which hamper their road to recovery. Therapy pets are endowed with calming capabilities which help in reducing the anxiety levels of patients by the release of a hormone called endorphin.
- Easier retrieval of essentials-Chronic PD patients face difficulties in getting around their own homes for fetching or keeping essential commodities including medicines. Pets can assist such people in retrieving fallen items or getting things from other rooms in the house.
- Enhanced health prospects – The soothing effect of a stroking a pet animal lowers heart rate and blood pressure and also provides symptomatic pain-relief.
- Better balance maintenance -Walking with the accompaniment of a pet helps patients in maintaining and improving balancing skills. These animals also prevent seniors from falling down by propelling them appropriately.
- Positive distraction sources-Pets give an opportunity to their masters to focus on them thereby diverting the attention from the prevailing illness and elevating moods by positive routine development.
- Physical activity booster-Most pet animals, especially dogs, need a nature walk thereby encouraging the elders to have physical activity. This is extremely important as exercising is crucial for PD patients.
- Attention Seeking: When PD patients in distress and need of help, pets are able to attract the attention of neighbours or passers-by. This is crucial in emergencies.
- Communication Promoters-Pets facilitate better communication by prompting conversations, especially from strangers.
- Daily Chore Helping-Trained pets can help PD people with simple tasks like switching lights, attending doorbells and alerting.
Pets are thus a boon for aiding the natural course of treatment in PD Rehabilitation!