Archive for the ‘Emotional Support Animal’ Category

There’s something about a wagging tail and a furry face that lights up the atmosphere and brings people together. Dogs and cats can brighten up a room. But, perhaps more importantly, they can heal. This healing factor is why emotional support animals can help seniors in assisted living facilities. 

What is an Emotional Support Animal? 

An emotional support animal (ESA) alleviates the symptoms of a mental or emotional condition. Most ESA are cats or dogs, but other domesticated animals can also be emotional support animals. Emotional support animals are often mistaken for pets because all pets offer emotional support to some degree. However, several factors separate an emotional support animal from a pet. 

Unlike pets, ESAs require an ESA letter to be considered a legitimate emotional support animal. An ESA letter is written by a licensed mental health professional like a psychologist, psychiatrist, or advanced practice mental health nurse. The letter designates an animal as essential for the symptom reduction of a person’s mental health condition.  Furthermore, ESAs fall under the protection of the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and, in many cases, state laws. The FHA protects tenants against discrimination from housing providers, including people with disabilities. Emotional support animals are considered a reasonable accommodation for a disability under the FHA.

An Emotional Support Dog does not require specialized training, unlike a Service Dog that does require extensive training.

Mental Health and Emotional Support Animals for Older Adults

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) studies the physical and mental health benefits of human relationships with animals. Studies from HABRI indicate that people of all ages may see improvements in their health from the company of animals. However, seniors have a unique need for an animal’s companionship. 

For example, data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that about 20% of people over 55 experience some mental health condition, like anxiety, cognitive issues, or depression. In a CDC survey of people over 55: 

More men (11.39%) than women (8.49%) say they rarely or never receive the support they need.  Older seniors (65 or over) were more likely to say they rarely or never received the emotional support they needed. 

Further data from the CDC indicates that 4 out of 10 adults over 65 feel socially isolated, and 3 out of 10 people over 50 feel lonely. Unfortunately, social isolation increases the risk of dementia and chronic illnesses like heart disease and stroke. Therefore, in the long run, social isolation and loneliness can negatively affect an older adult’s physical and mental health and quality of life. 

Life in Assisted Living Facilities

Assisted living facilities are residences for seniors who need help with activities of daily living, like cooking, cleaning, and grooming. While these residences also offer opportunities for social interaction, older adults can still struggle with feeling lonely and depressed in these living situations. 

Away from family and old friends, some older adults may struggle to adjust to living in an assisted living facility. Furthermore, residents in an assisted living facility can — even with the help of professional staff — experience depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairments. 

How Can an Emotional Support Animal Help a Senior? 

An emotional support animal can help seniors in assisted living facilities adjust to their surroundings and thrive in their new environment. An ESA allows an older adult to have a constant and familiar companion in a new environment. As they adjust, the senior can continue to have a living companion that is theirs alone, reducing their feeling of loneliness and potential for depression. The ESA can improve the following situations in the assisted living facility:

Boost Engagement in Physical Activities

Due to health limitations, fatigue, or depression, seniors typically don’t get the regular physical activity they need to maintain optimal health. An ESA, however, must be walked, groomed, or engaged. Seniors with pets are more likely to engage in physical activity simply because an ESA requires physical care. For seniors, even a short leisurely walk with an ESA can lead to long-term health benefits. 

Provide Opportunities for Touch

Petting a dog or cat can literally help someone’s heart. Studies indicate that petting a dog or a cat can lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate, and improve symptoms of anxiety. The act of stroking an animal boosts the “feel-good” hormones in the brain, leading to feelings of satisfaction.

Serve as a Healthy Distraction

It’s hard to stay sad when a cat or dog is happy to play. An ESA, like a snuggly cat or silly dog, can distract their owners from their worries or negative emotions. After all, it’s difficult to feel blue when a dog comes running up for an enthusiastic welcome or when a cat wants a comfy lap to sleep.

Foster a Sense of Purpose 

Depression and loneliness can set in when seniors feel like they aren’t needed. An ESA offers the opportunity to be necessary and productive as the caretaker of an ESA. Feeling capable, valuable, and wanted is something all people need to experience, and an ESA brings those feelings out for their owners. 

Reduce Symptoms of Anxiety 

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) shows that animal companionship reduces high blood pressure and heart rate, both anxiety symptoms. An ESA is a soothing presence for seniors with dementia, anxiety, or depression. A warm and comforting animal to cuddle is a source of support for seniors with mental health conditions

Unconditional Love

There are precious few places where individuals can find unconditional love, and animals are one of them. Animals don’t judge, nag, or bully; they simply love their owners. An animal’s love is uncomplicated and unconditional, which is what seniors need the most. An ESA allows an older adult to enjoy companionship without worry or expectations. 

An emotional support animal, which can be a dog, cat or any other domesticated pet, can improve living in an assisted care facility for seniors. Emotional Support Animals for New Seniors

Older adults are just like anyone else and may feel apprehensive about new environments. Family members and assisted living staff may attempt to get a senior acclimated to the community as much as possible, but adjusting to a new living situation — especially for a senior — can be challenging. New people, new faces, and a new life play a role when a senior first moves into an assisted living community. An emotional support animal helps to make that transition smoother by serving as a consistent and grounding companion.

How ESA Help Everyone in an Assisted Living Community

The assisted living community environment also benefits from having an emotional support animal on the premises. Other residents may feel more engaged and comfortable when they routinely see an animal in their midst, ensuring that they live in a safe and caring space. The overall impact of an ESA on an assisted living community can: 

Bring life and vitality into the community  Stimulate physical activity in the general population  Improve overall morale of staff and residents  Increases interaction and communication between residents 

When it comes to emotional support animals in an assisted living community, they boost the happiness of everyone around them and change the atmosphere of the community for the better. 

An emotional support animal (ESA) can help manage your emotional or mental health condition. They provide comfort and affection when you need it the most. But an ESA can’t come with you into “no pets allowed” areas — except where you live — and airlines no longer allow emotional support animals to fly as pets. A psychiatric service dog (PSD), however, can do all the above and more. If you’re looking at your emotional support animal and wondering if it is possible to make it a psychiatric service dog, here’s what you need to know.

Emotional Support Animal versus Psychiatric Service Animal

An emotional support animal is an important part of dealing with a person’s emotional or mental health condition. An ESA owner possesses supporting documentation — an ESA letter — from a licensed mental health professional indicating the individual’s needs an ESA for their mental health. An ESA does not require any formal training; it just needs to offer comfort to its owner in times of need. 

An ESA is safeguarded by federal laws, particularly the Fair Housing Act (FHA), enabling ESAs to live with their handlers, even in housing with policies prohibiting pets. However, an ESA can’t accompany their handler outside the home into places that don’t allow pets.

On the other hand, a psychiatric service dog receives extensive training to perform specific tasks for its handler. Unlike an ESA, a PSD may accompany its owner wherever the public is allowed. These areas include movie theaters, parks, and shopping malls. Federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Air Carrier Access Act enable a PSD to reside and travel with their handler, even in instances where pets aren’t typically allowed. 

Can an Emotional Support Animal become a Psychiatric Service Dog?

It depends. First, only a canine qualifies as a psychiatric service dog. As cute, cuddly, and warm as a hamster, cat, or rabbit is as an ESA, they cannot qualify as a PSD. If your dog is an ESA, it may be possible to qualify for a PSD but it requires significant effort.

Qualifying Your ESA Dog to Become a PSD

First, evaluate your situation. Are there any essential tasks you need a service dog to perform for you? How could your condition or quality of life improve if this task were done for you? Is this task something your emotional support dog could be trained to do? Is the task needed to assist with your mental health disability?

Then, evaluate your dog. Your dog might be excellent at giving affection and playing catch, but is your emotional support dog eager to learn and easy to train? Can it readily follow commands, be friendly with strangers, and be tolerant of other animals? All service dogs must be on their best behavior, especially in public areas, and not every dog has the capacity to maintain the required composure or perform complicated service dog jobs. Make an honest assessment of your needs and your emotional support dog and decide if it’s up for the task of becoming a psychiatric service dog. 

Train Your Dog 

The primary factor that sets a psychiatric service dog apart from an emotional support animal is the service dog training regarding your emotional or mental health disability. Most service dogs go through months — sometimes years — of daily training to become safe and effective service dogs. For your ESA to qualify as a psychiatric service animal, it must undergo the same training and perform its assigned service dog job. 

In addition to training your dog to perform its tasks, a service dog must also have public access training. Public access training ensures that your dog will exhibit the behavior it needs to be a service dog. Because service dogs are welcome to follow their handlers into public areas, they must maintain safe and controlled behavior. Despite performing its service tasks well, if the dog exhibits aggressive or disruptive behavior, a service dog may be asked to leave the area. A service dog can’t do its job if it’s not safe in public. Public access training teaches dogs to exhibit calm behavior, even when faced with crowds, other dogs, noises, or busy streets. 

For an emotional support animal to qualify as a psychiatric service dog it must undergo strict task-based and public access training. Obtain a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter

A psychiatric service dog letter is authored and endorsed by a licensed healthcare professional and addresses whether a person has a qualifying disability for the purposes of a owning a psychiatric service dog. A PSD letter gives owners peace of mind and documentation regarding their mental health disability. Other optional steps for fully qualified PSD owners include obtaining ID cards, registrations, certificates and other service dog accessories.

Having a Psychiatric Service Dog

Once your ESA fully finishes training to become a psychiatric service dog, your new psychiatric service dog can accompany you anywhere the public can go, including areas where pets aren’t allowed.

Emotional support animals (ESA) help individuals to overcome mental health challenges. Other people may only see a pet, but an emotional support animal fulfills the valuable role of supporting the handler in mastering life’s challenges that others might take for granted.

Is an Emotional Support Animal for you?

If you have a mental disability — such as depression, anxiety, or other psychological disorder — you may qualify for an emotional support animal. It is well documented that ESAs provide a therapeutic benefit through comfort and companionship. To qualify for an emotional support animal, you need to obtain an ESA letter. Talk to your licensed health care professional or, if your therapist is unavailable or out of state, connect with one through an online service, such as ESA Doctors.

Pets versus Emotional Support Animals 

On a general level, pets provide a special beneficial relationship. The Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) has collected scientific evidence, which shows how pets positively influence human lives. Pets can encourage social interaction. Pet owners are more likely to get to know their neighbors and have positive relationships than individuals who don’t own a pet. Pets can contribute to a healthy life by improving physical health, decreasing stress levels, and providing companionship.

Emotional support animals, however, have a very specific and essential task. 

Difference between service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs. An Emotional Support Animal is More Than a Pet

More than pets, ESAs are required to serve a vital therapeutic purpose. ESAs allow people with emotional and mental health challenges to accomplish life activities that they would otherwise be unable to do. But, as opposed to a psychiatric service dog, an emotional support animal is not trained to perform a specific task.

Given the importance of the human-animal bond, it’s not hard to imagine how emotional support animals can improve the quality of life for a person suffering from a mental health issue or disability. 

Emotional support animals serve a particular therapeutic purpose by helping with emotional and mental health issues.

Mental Health Help

Before the value of emotional support animals can be explained, the importance of a person’s healthy mental well-being needs to be recognized. Mental health affects a person’s life as a whole. Not addressing these mental health concerns can cause problems at work, school, with friends, or even with family. Ignoring mental health issues can also compromise physical health in the long run by raising blood pressure, increasing heart rate, and causing muscle tension. 

Inadequate mental health can leave a person feeling lonely, drained, and defeated, unable to perform daily tasks that others take for granted. For example, a person may experience anxiety, making them unable to travel or be in social situations. Illnesses such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause insomnia, causing someone to be unable to obtain adequate sleep. Mental concerns can have a sweeping negative impact on a person’s life.

Emotional Support Dog helps to keep a positive outlook on life. Benefits of an Emotional Support Animal

For people trying to overcome mental health issues, every little triumph can help on the way to recovery. Emotional support animals can offer support on the path to healing. 

Numerous studies have documented how ESAs can be part of the wellness plan for mental health issues and other disorders. Emotional support animals have been essential in helping people manage disorders such as:

Anxiety Depression Post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) Agoraphobia (fear of being outside of the home) Aerophobia (fear of flying) General Anxiety Disorder Stress-induced situations Social shyness.

Get the Love and Support you deserve!

Anxiety and PTSD

Anxiety can be difficult to overcome without assistance. For those whose anxieties include phobias, anxiety can make everyday tasks impossible to accomplish. Emotional support animals are useful for anxiety and specific phobias. The ESAs provide a sense of comfort and safety, enabling patients to face and overcome those phobias. For instances:

Individuals who tend to have anxiety attacks when traveling often feel calmer in the presence of an Emotional Support Animal. Hospitalized patients with serious medical diagnoses have been shown to experience a decrease in anxiety when able to interact with an ESA. In courtrooms, Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals are used to provide victims some security while they are testifying against their alleged assailant.

Many therapists utilize Emotional Support Animals for veterans who have PTSD. A Pairing Assistance-Dogs with Soldiers (PAWS) study demonstrated that dogs significantly reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress in veterans. Veterans with Service or Emotional Support Dogs reported improved interpersonal relationships with others, fewer instances of depression, and fewer instances of substance abuse than veterans without dogs.  

An emotional support cat offers comfort and healing. Depression

In the case of depression, emotional support dogs can save a life. In instances of severe depression, a person may be unable to perform daily activities, or they may have feelings of suicide. There is scientific evidence that a human-animal bond can be a protective factor against suicide and depression. An ESA for depression can improve mood, increase sociability, and promote responsiveness to others in cases of depression.

Beyond Priceless

An emotional support animal — a dog, cat, or any other animal — serves a specific and valuable service for the people they accompany. More than pets, ESAs serve a particular therapeutic purpose by helping deal with emotional and mental health issues. Understanding the therapeutic value of emotional support animals can lead to their increased acceptance into society.