With the ever-increasing awareness and emphasis on mental health and wellbeing across all ages, it comes as no surprise that care homes are more and more on the look-out for holistic therapies which can create benefits for their ageing population.

Whilst care homes can undoubtedly provide a warm and safe environment for people who for whatever reason are no longer able to live independently, that shift from independent living in the community to life in a care home setting can have a significant knock-on effect – certainly in the initial stages – as residents adapt to their new environment and endeavour to establish new friendships and relationships.

It can be a confusing, distressing and lonely time which inevitably can impact negatively on personal health. It is against this backdrop that care homes are seeking therapies proven to lift low mood, provide a different focus to the day, stimulate alternative conversations from the weather, general aches and pains and what’s happening on the television, in order to help new residents settle in well and live fulfilled and happy lives in their care setting.

With Britain renowned as a nation of animal lovers, it is no wonder that pet therapies feature top of the list.

What is Pet Therapy?

Pet therapies in care home settings come in a variety of shapes and forms. Popular in many care homes is a resident dog or cat. For residents who have been used to regular contact with animals, having a pet “on site” from the very outset of their arrival can be particularly reassuring and can ease that initial settling in period. Over decades particular breeds of dogs have been trained to support those with vision or hearing loss. More latterly, they are being trained to deal with more extensive health problems and can sense the rise and fall in a diabetic’s blood sugar levels or the onset of a panic attack for example.

Whilst dogs can be decidedly intelligent creatures, first and foremost with the right training and care, they make excellent companions giving unconditional affection to anyone who shows them attention. Far more independent by nature and less physically demanding, cats too can be equally sociable and friendly. A kitten acquired soon after weaning can learn to interact with people and become a “lap cat” relishing the warmth of its resting place, enjoying being stroked and playing with the care-giver.

But resident pets needn’t stop at dogs and cats. Rabbits can be popular in care homes and are far easier to look after so long as a regime is in place as to whose responsibility it is to ensure the animal is properly looked after. Introducing a budgerigar to a social area can provide a different focus for residents as they listen to its chirruping. It may even unlock memories and anecdotes about past pets prompting animated exchanges and laughter. Chickens and ducks are also proving to be a well-received addition to care homes. You may like to consider hatching eggs in an incubator on-site: a guaranteed way to gain the interest of your residents. Failing that, having your own chickens providing fresh eggs each day is sure to be a talking point not just with residents but also with visiting families and friends. Not only that, residents will enjoy being taken out to see the hens and collect the eggs, furnishing an easy way to get out, albeit briefly, have some exercise, fresh air, a change of scene and more importantly add a sense of purpose to the day.

Getting Started with Pet Therapy

If having a resident pet is not feasible in your care setting, consider other possibilities such as charities which offer animal therapy. Visiting donkeys, alpacas, or kid goats can have hugely beneficial effects, certainly in the short term, in terms of brightening your residents’ day with their antics. Pets as Therapy, operating nationwide, and TheraPaws, operating across London and surrounding area, are two well established charities with a team of volunteers who are happy to bring their friendly, temperament-tested and vaccinated pets into care home settings to be enjoyed, patted, stroked and have affection lavished on them by residents.

Consider too running animal workshops for residents where residents are offered the opportunity to encounter different animals and hold and stroke different textures from cute and fluffy rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters to silky smooth or scaly reptiles and snakes. Some visiting workshops will even at your request bring in cockroaches or tarantulas: guaranteed to cause a stir but do consider your audience carefully before choosing this option! Whatever version you opt for, such a visit will afford an experience and memory to remain with your residents long after the event and will assuredly enhance verbal communication with others, self-esteem, motor skills and social engagement.

Benefits of Pet Therapy

If in any doubt about the beneficial effects of pet therapy in care homes, have a look at what the Alzheimer’s Society has to say about pet therapy and dementia sufferers. As with other research studies, the Alzheimer’s Society is quite clear that, when carefully managed, pets, with their unconditional affection, playfulness and fun can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression in their audience, improve social interaction and sleeping patterns and alleviate irritability, agitation and loneliness.

Whatever benefits pets in care homes may bring, a word of caution to care home managers: preparation is vital. Pets are not for everyone: some residents will have serious allergies to pet hair, others may have had a past traumatic experience with an animal or may simply have an aversion to pets per se. Remember too that, as with anything new you are introducing to your setting, you will need to have policies and procedures in place to cover all eventualities including who mops up the mess when any visiting or resident animal has an accident in situ!

Learn More About CareDocs

We hope the above has given you some insight into the benefits of introducing pet therapy to your care home. Here at CareDocs we pride ourselves on understanding every aspect of having the right care in place for each and every one of your residents. For an informal discussion on how we can help you monitor and manage the social, emotional and mental health and wellbeing of your residents, please contact us today to learn more about our software and solutions.

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