Posted by: Gina Salamone
Most of us know what a service animal is, but the use of emotional support animals is becoming more and more common. So, what is an emotional support animal? An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides benefits to a person who has an emotional or mental health disorder. In order to be characterized as an emotional support animal, documentation from a health professional must be obtained. Mostly commonly, these animals are dogs, but other animals can also serve as emotional support animals. It is becoming more evident that these emotional support animals can provide some real benefits to the health and wellness of the senior population. Whether depressed, dealing with ongoing disabilities or chronic illnesses, emotional support animals can be one of the best treatment options out there.
Emotional Support Animals and Physical Health
Emotional support animals can provide a reason for seniors to get out and remain active. For example, a dog needs to be walked. Walking the dog provides the senior with physical exercise. Exercise is a much-needed part of a healthy lifestyle for seniors and can even improve mobility. The American Heart Association has even stated that people with heart disease who own a dog outlive those who do not. Similar health benefits can be found for other chronic illnesses such as diabetes. In arthritis sufferers, petting an animal can help to work out the arm.
Emotional Support Animals and Mental Health
Having an emotional support animal also helps to reduce depression and anxiety. It can reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase serotonin, the feel-good hormone. Major triggers for depression in elderly people are loneliness and isolation. With an emotional support animal, many seniors often find companionship and friendship that helps them to cope with loneliness and isolation, and can alleviate depression for the senior. It can also help in coping with a loss of a spouse.
In addition, having an emotional support animal can provide mental stimulation for seniors. This can come in the form of talking about animals or even reading about them. This is of great benefit to those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Often those with dementia or Alzheimer’s suffer from bouts of agitation and emotional support dogs can help to calm them down.
Types of Emotional Support Animals
As previously stated, dogs are the most common of the emotional support animals, but there are other options. Cats are a fairly common choice. Birds can be an option for people who do not have a lot of space. Birds also do not require a lot of maintenance which makes them ideal for seniors. Birds come in many varieties, so be sure to research to find the right bird. Fish are an option for people who may be allergic to furry pets. The companionship offered by other pets is not there, but watching the fish can be calming and relaxing. Smaller furry animals such as rabbits, hamsters, mice, and even domestic rats can also be options. These animals also don’t require a lot of space, but can be handled and many are affectionate animals, making them good for companionship.
The support for emotional support animals and seniors is fairly recent, but studies on the effectiveness of these animals continue to be surfacing. Service animals have proven to be of great service to people with disabilities over the years, but the benefits do not stop with service animals. If you or a senior loved one is experiencing chronic illness or mental disorders, consider talking to the family and doctor about getting an emotional support animal. This can greatly improve quality of life and increase the length of life.
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