We know pets rock, but what they can do for seniors is amazing.

At times, becoming a senior citizen isn’t such a wonderful experience.

Sure, there are lots of things that are great about getting older. But there can also be emotional and physical pain, along with bouts of loneliness and depression that can make each day extremely difficult for the elderly and their loved ones.

Thankfully, there is some good news. 

We all know that great feeling we get when we hug a friendly animal, right?

Nowadays, more health organizations are using animals to help their patients and residents feel better, too. It’s especially true for seniors.

Mary Farkas, director of therapeutic activities for the Hebrew Home by RiverSpring Health in Riverdale, New York, believes the benefits of animal-assisted therapy are big. Her facility implemented the Pet-Pals program that allows animals to interact with its residents on a regular basis. 

The dogs all undergo training and are either Canine Good Citizens or in the process of becoming one.

Meet Luca, one of the amazing therapy dogs at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale. Photo from RiverSpring Health, used with permission.

“They are temperament tested to be sure they are appropriate for this kind of work,” Mary told Upworthy. “They also receive ongoing training from our trainer.”

Here are three noteworthy ways animal-assisted therapy adds a little sunshine to the lives of seniors. 

1. Pets help with their memory.

Studies have shown that seniors’ minds are stimulated while they’re interacting with animals and after the animals have left. 

Hebrew Home at Riverdale resident Edythe Kershnar enjoys the company of pet therapy dogs Kiki (left) and Max. Photo from RiverSpring Health, used with permission.

“We have residents who have raised puppies in their younger days, and they can recall vivid memories as soon as they see our therapy dogs,” Mary told Upworthy. “It’s really great to see.”

Not only that, interacting with pets also helps stimulate their minds because they remember the animals’ names. 

Check out Hebrew Home resident Beverly Herzog with her pet therapy dog, Marley. 

“Oftentimes Beverly asks if Marley is going to give her a kiss today,” said Catherine Farrell, assistant director of therapeutic activities at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale. “It’s almost as if Marley is hers.”

And yes, Beverly gets those kisses from her pal, Marley. 

Pet smooches for Beverly!

2. Pets help get them out of their shell.

Sadly, many seniors become lonely and solitary as the days go by. That results in a lot less talking. 

But when therapy pets are brought into the equation, loneliness is reduced significantly and they help seniors become more social.  

“Some of our residents don’t communicate verbally on a regular basis,” Mary said. “But when they see our pets, they’ll usually make a point to speak to the animals. It’s wonderful to see them break out of their shells.”

Hebrew Home at Riverdale resident Phyllis Johnson gives some cuddles. Photo from RiverSpring Health, used with permission.

3. Pets simply make them happier.

There are many benefits to animal-assisted therapy for seniors, ranging from lower blood pressure to increased amounts of exercise, but arguably the most important one is how happy pets make everyone around them. 

Even the individuals who are not being treated feel happier when observing a pet therapy session. 

“Our residents show so much joy and excitement when they are around our therapy pets,” Catherine said. “It makes everything worthwhile.”

Hebrew Home at Riverdale resident Ethel Brown has a laugh with Marley. Photo from RiverSpring Health, used with permission.

Because when it comes to the impact of pets on human beings, you can definitely trust a big dog and a smile.

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