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The Therapeutic Benefits of Animal Companions

A Stroke Survivor Ultilizing Animal Assisted Therapy

The therapeutic effect of animals on humans has been valued for centuries.  Florence Nightingale recommended "a small pet animal" as an "excellent companion for the sick,” and a growing number of studies show animals have a positive affect on the healing process. For stroke survivors, the family pet might prove an invaluable companion during the recovery process. Individuals without an animal might want to consider adopting for the purposes of Animal Assisted Therapy.

Many therapists who use AAT report improvement in patient’s visual deficit, muscle strength, balance and motivation. Simple tasks such as throwing a ball to a dog or brushing his coat can help strengthen weak muscles, building arm strength and balance.  Positioning an animal on the side of the body where there is a visual deficit can motivate a person to work on this neglected side.  Even just having a pet to interact with during therapy often causes one to pay more attention to the therapist’s instructions.

Utilizing AAT also helps stroke survivors overcome feelings of depression and find gain more optimistic attitudes. Dr. Andrew Weil, a leader in the field of integrative medicine, highly recommends AAT because it gives the patient “a much-needed opportunity to give affection as well as receive it. It is this reciprocity - rare among medical therapies - that makes AAT a unique, and valuable route to healing."

If Adoption is not an Option…

If adoption is not an option locate a Pets-On-Wheels program in your area. These organizations will bring a pet to you for a visit. Even visitations have been medically proven to have a calming effect. Touching animals helps chase away loneliness and depression.

Ask a friend or family member in the area, that typically leaves their pet home alone during the day, if you can baby sit the animal a few times a week. Chances are, any pet would much rather spend some time with a companion than home alone.

If you live in an environment that is not conducive to owning or spending time with a pet, there are virtual pets that also provide a sense of activity and companionship.  Software like Gerijoy integrates interactive animal companionship with emails, photos and conversations from family members.

By: Buckley Ann Kuhn Fricker J.D., GCM, President of Buckley’s For Seniors, LLC

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"Simple tasks such as throwing a ball to a dog or brushing his coat can help strengthen weak muscles, building arm strength and balance."

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