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How ESAs Help Seniors in Assisted Care Living Facilities

How ESAs Help Seniors in Assisted Care Living Facilities - ServiceDogCertifications

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. 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 

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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. 

Senior petting her emotional support rabbit living in a assisted care living facility
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. 

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6 comments

  1. Can a hotel charge me $25 a day for emotional support dog that is licensed as a mobile support dog by a psychiatrist says: October 29, 2022
  2. Tammy Cartagena says: October 4, 2022

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