The use of emotional support animals is becoming more and more common. What is an emotional support animal? An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides benefits to a person who has an emotional disability such as anxiety or depression by providing comfort and support. In order to be characterized as an emotional support animal, documentation from a health professional must be obtained for the animal. Most commonly, these animals are dogs, but other animals can 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 a person is depressed, dealing with ongoing disabilities, or has chronic illnesses, emotional support animals can be one of the best treatment options out there.
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. And as reported in USA Today, a study published by 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. And petting an animal can help arthritis sufferers by increasing mobility.
Having an emotional support animal can also help reduce depression and anxiety. It can reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase serotonin, a 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 pet companionship 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. Emotional support animals can help to calm them down.
Dogs are the most common of the emotional support animals, but there are other options. Cats, like dogs, are also 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 another 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 have also been emotional support animals. These animals also don’t require a lot of space but can be handled, and many are affectionate animals, good for companionship.
Emotional support animals are not the same as service animals. A service animal is trained to do a specific task and can go with a person in public. An emotional support animal, on the other hand, is not specially trained for tasks and is not allowed in public places animals normally cannot go to. However, because an emotional support animal is not considered a pet, in most situations, housing restrictions against pets do not apply to emotional support animals; landlords must make reasonable accommodations. These are federal protections under the Fair Housing Act. The necessity for the animal does need to be documented by a physician, though.
Having a pet is a big responsibility, and it's not for everyone. If a person's vision or reflexes are weak, an animal could pose a tripping hazard. And if balance is a consideration, a large dog might not be the best companion if the dog is not well-trained for walking on a leash. Still, the support for emotional support animals and seniors is fairly recent, but studies on the effectiveness of these animals continue to be surfacing. If you or a senior loved one is experiencing chronic illness or emotional or mental disorders, consider talking to the family and doctor about getting an emotional support animal. This can greatly improve the quality of life and perhaps even increase the length of life.
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