Editor's Note: This is a guest post on the Grey Matters Blog and not written by anyone affiliated with Grey Muzzle. We allow guest contributors from time to time in order to provide our supporters with a wide range of topics pertaining to senior dogs.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to share your life with a dog, then you know the ways they can lift your spirits, offer companionship, and even keep you active. Senior citizens can benefit many ways when dogs are present in their lives. And, when senior citizens are paired with senior dogs? Both humans and dogs can benefit and support each other.
Senior Dogs in Senior Care Facilities
Seniors living in nursing homes and residential care facilities may not be able to have dogs of their own, but they can still benefit from visiting therapy dogs. When therapy dogs visit these facilities, patients who are usually withdrawn may become more engaged with the dogs present. Dogs can also help to calm and soothe seniors who are upset, and seniors who are lonely benefit from being able to physically stroke and spend time with a visiting dog. Dogs provide a natural outlet for affection, giving seniors a chance to express emotion.
Dogs may also play an important role in helping seniors with dementia. Approximately 47 million senior citizens live with dementia across the world today, and senior dogs could potentially help these people worldwide. A review on animal assisted therapy for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients reviewed multiple similar studies from 2016 through 2018. This review found that animal assisted therapy, particularly therapy with dogs, may be beneficial in helping to treat the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.
Visits with senior citizens aren’t just beneficial for humans - they’re ideal for senior dogs, too. A visit to a nursing home or care facility can be entertaining and enjoyable for dogs. They become the center of attention during the visit and get to meet new friends. Senior dogs are often a great fit for this type of work since they tend to be well-trained and a bit calmer than younger pups.
Senior Citizens Adopting Senior Dogs
When senior citizens adopt senior dogs, they’ll have the chance to enjoy many benefits from their new pets. Dogs can change seniors’ lives in many ways. They offer companionship and can help to combat loneliness, and they offer hours of entertainment. Dogs need to be walked and played with, which can encourage sedentary seniors to get more active for physical health perks.
Having a dog can even help to lower blood pressure, a great benefit for seniors who have high blood pressure or who are stressed. This is probably due to the fact that dogs help to calm their owners, and dog owners usually get more exercise than people without pets do. In fact, having a dog could even help to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease - all great benefits for senior citizens!
Dogs benefit from these situations, too. Getting senior pets adopted depends on finding the right situation for them, but a senior dog can enjoy a great home with a senior citizen. While active families might pass over a senior pet because of the dog’s low activity level, that activity level might be just right for a home with an older adult. A senior citizen often wants a pet to spoil, love, and simply spend time with, which is exactly what many senior dogs need and want.
Supporting Senior Citizens and Senior Dogs
Senior citizens and senior dogs can help each other in many ways, but they sometimes need some outside assistance to do this. Seniors may be hesitant to adopt a dog because of mobility, financial, or physical limitations. Seniors who already have a dog may reach a point where their declining health makes it difficult for them to continue giving their pets the quality care they deserve.
Programs like Knox PAWS of the Knoxville-Knox County Council on Aging have found solutions to help senior people and senior pets enjoy the benefits of compansionship and get all the care they need.
Knox PAWS is a program of Knoxville-Knox County Council on Aging, which provides services for senior citizens in Knoxville and Knox County, TN. The program works with area animal shelters to match senior pets with senior citizens. Program participants must be 60 years of age or older, residents of Knox County, income-eligible, and live independently in a pet-friendly environment. If participants cannot afford pet food, it is provided through the Feed A Pet Project (a partnership of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and RSVP). Knox PAWS works to: (1) reduce loneliness and stress as well as improve the physical and mental health of seniors by matching them with a pet that is in need of a loving home, and (2) reduce the number of senior pets euthanized at local shelters.
Thanks to innovative programs like this one, more seniors are able to keep dogs in their lives, even when facing financial and mobility challenges. And, more senior dogs benefit from being able to stay with their humans. When senior dogs and senior citizens provide each other with so many benefits, we clearly need more programs like this to support both dogs and humans.