Paw-fect Companions for Over 50s

Dogs can enhance the lives of older people in numerous ways. The companionship, physical activity, emotional support, and routine that dogs provide can have a positive impact on the well-being of older people.

Before getting a dog, it's important to consider your ability to provide proper care, including exercise, grooming, and veterinary care. Here are some ways in which dogs can enrich the lives of older people.

1. Providing a service

Service dogs, also known as assistance dogs, are trained to support people with disabilities and medical conditions in a variety of ways. There are many types of service dogs, from guide dogs and mobility assistance dogs, to seizure alert and psychiatric dogs. Because of the diversity of services dogs can provide, they become an exemplary companion to older people, who are often living with one condition or another due to ageing.

2. Paw-fect Therapists

Did you know that dogs can be trained to become a therapy dog for care and nursing homes? Many Abbeyfield houses and homes welcome therapy dogs, whether visiting, or living alongside residents in the home. Therapy dogs provide comfort and affection alongside their owners - a nice cuddle with a furry friend is enough to brighten anyone's day after all! 

3. Trustworthy Companionship 

Dogs offer consistent companionship, which can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation that are often experienced by older people, especially those who live alone. Dogs are known for their ability to provide unconditional love and emotional support. They can sense their owners' emotions and respond with affection and comfort, which can be incredibly comforting for those who might be dealing with stress, anxiety, or other emotional challenges that come in later life. The presence of a loyal and affectionate pet can provide a strong sense of companionship and greatly reduce feelings of solitude.

4. Health and Wellbeing 

Dogs require regular exercise and need to be taken for walks and engage in physical activities like playing fetch. This encourages a more active lifestyle, which can improve physical health and overall fitness levels. Regular walks also provide an opportunity to get fresh air and engage with the local community.

Interacting with dogs has been shown to release oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress and promotes feelings of happiness. This can be particularly beneficial for older people who may be dealing with the stressors of ageing. Studies have also suggested that owning a dog can lead to improved cardiovascular health, reduced blood pressure, and lowered cholesterol levels. The physical activity and companionship that come with dog ownership can contribute to better overall health outcomes.

5. Socialising 

Owning a dog can increase social interaction for older people who may otherwise not interact with others outside of their family or friends. Walking the dog, going to parks, or attending dog-related events can lead to conversations and connections with other dog owners, neighbours, and community members. This can help combat feelings of isolation and promote a sense of belonging.

Twiglet's Story

A Therapy Dog in Training 

Meet Twiglet, a Cocker Spaniel therapy dog who resides at Abbeyfield Brecon Society. Twiglet has been with Abbeyfield Brecon for around a year and a half now and has become a much-appreciated companion to the residents.

Emma Debenham, Abbeyfield Brecon House Manager, tells us more about Twiglet's journey so far:

“It’s been over a year since I first introduced a very shy Twiglet to Abbeyfield Brecon. How time flies! She has settled into her role better than I ever expected. If I’m honest, I was quite worried in the early days if she would settle and fit into what is a very quiet and calm environment but with a lot of coming and going. But as it turns out, this is exactly what she needed.

“Twiglet was a rescue puppy and in quite a bad way. She was painfully nervous of everyone and everything she encountered. She hadn’t had the chance to socialise properly and really didn’t know how to act. But, as I write this piece and look over to where she is lying, just outside my office door, waiting to greet all the residents as they return to their flats from lunch, I am incredibly proud of the dog she has become. Brimming with confidence in familiar surroundings, greeting all visitors to Abbeyfield with a joy and enthusiasm not to be sniffed at!

“By far, her favourite visitor is our hairdresser Linda, who, since she was a puppy, has bought her a small treat each time she visits. Twiglet can aways be found sitting outside the salon door waiting for Linda to finish!

Twiglet has grown into a very loving and loyal best friend for me, a willing companion for the residents and chief greeter for Abbeyfield. I could not be more proud of her.

“The joy she brings to the residents is immeasurable. They all look forward to seeing her each day and spending time with her. Twiglet treats each resident differently, which I find most interesting. She knows who she has to be very gentle with, who will play with her and who she can jump up and sit on! She seems to be aware of when a resident is not feeling too well and if an ambulance has to be called, will sit calmly and then escort the resident and paramedics out of the building. The residents look forward to seeing her each day and miss her terribly if she has a day off. “Where’s Twiglet?” can be heard throughout the day!

“Outside of work Twiglet has also blossomed. She regularly walks the Brecon Beacons, the mountains of North Wales and the Lake District in every kind of weather imaginable! She comes wild camping in the summer months, loves the water, loves the snow even more and is a regular in the coffee shops!" 

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