“As soon as people see Woody they gravitate towards him.”
Phillip, a trained Pets as Therapy (PAT) volunteer, has been very involved in the Winnersh area for a long time, and is an ambassador for Guide Dogs UK in Wokingham. He is a community man who likes to contribute and give back to his neighbours. Charlotte and Rowena, Activity Team Lead and Activity Coordinator at Abbeyfield Winnersh, tell us all about Woody, Phillip's golden Labrador, who is adored by all at the home.
Rowena says, “We knew our residents would love to get to know Woody and PAT was on our agenda from the very beginning. We were excited to welcome Philip to Abbeyfield in 2017, and he has been volunteering his time for us ever since.
“People living with dementia can find it hard to communicate, and Woody is great for some of our residents who have difficulty communicating. They will offer a hand for a stroke or a cuddle and this is often accompanied with a smile. Everyone knows how to connect with an animal – our residents just want to make friends with Woody. Some have been pet owners, so for them it brings back happy memories. They will start telling stories, and when Woody walks in the room, they all get an amazing twinkle in their eye and seem to be uplifted.
“Woody will go and visit each person in turn, giving them the ‘big friendly eyes’ and asking for a cuddle. Philip and Woody are the stars of the activity. As soon as people see Woody they tend to gravitate towards him. Philip will also take the time to bring Woody to visit residents in their rooms, and does one-to-ones for residents who would benefit from a bit of extra time with him. When the weather permits Phillip will take them for walks round the garden and let them hold the lead.”
Charlotte adds, “It’s not just PAT animals that benefit our residents. One of our colleagues often brings her dog in, and relatives will also bring theirs. We’ve had a variety of animals, from ordinary pets like guinea pigs, rabbits and kittens, to more bizarre creatures like spiders, cockroaches, snakes, and even giant snails. All have different textured skin which can make it a sensory experience for our residents, which is always important for people living with dementia. For this activity we use a great organization called, ZooLab, who have a whole menagerie to choose from!
“We don’t have animals around just because they are therapy pets – all animals are therapy. “
The benefits of pets for older people
Pets can make a huge difference to older people's lives. Research has found that pet owners are less likely to feel lonely, recover from illness faster and one study showed that even 15 minutes with an animal can increase serotonin and drop stress levels.
Improved social interaction
There are a number of benefits for owning a pet for older people including the perks of interacting and engaging with their pet which can help provide an older person with a sense of purpose by having something to care for, whilst also providing companionship. In sheltered housing pets can help spark conversations between residents, family, friends and staff.
Improving quality of life
Pets also create an opportunity for socialising and getting out in the fresh air, which in turn can increase confidence and self-esteem, whilst also reducing the risk of depression, anxiety and feelings of loneliness, which helps to improve quality of life.
Health benefits of owning a pet
Pets can help to increase mobility in older people and increase the amount of exercise that is required in caring for an animal, which can in turn help them to maintain a healthy weight. Looking after a pet has also been shown to lower blood pressure and help stimulate the mind and memory.
Sense of purpose
Having responsibility for an animal that an older person can feed, play and exercise with can provide a sense of purpose. Having a pet gives them an animal to keep them occupied and active.
Having a routine
Pets help to have a routine in the day, knowing that there is an animal that needs their care can help to establish a list of things they need to do in order to look after their pet, which is beneficial for brain health.
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Please note: Many of the activities mentioned here have been curtailed due to COVID-19 restrictions, and the photos were taken before the pandemic. The home is fully compliant with Government guidelines.