Seniors, Service Dogs, and Emotional Support Pets
Service pets can help seniors who have mobility issues, chronic illnesses, and mental health issues live more independently.
What is a Service Dog?
First let’s talk about dogs! When it comes to seniors with disabilities or impairments completing essential activities of daily living, service dogs are different from just having a pet. They are trained from puppyhood to perform certain duties according to the needs of an owner. Here are some of the jobs service dogs are more than happy to perform:
- Help safely guide seniors who are visually impaired past hazards and obstacles.
- Alert seniors with hearing impairments to fire alarms, doorbells, and crying children.
- Detect when a diabetic senior has a drop in their blood sugar levels!
- Press an alarm if the caregiver is having a seizure, and prevent them from injuring themselves by laying down close to them or breaking their fall.
- Pull owner in a wheelchair
- Open and close doors
- Support owner through panic or anxiety attacks
- Retrieve items
- Turn on and off lights
Seniors with service pets are legally allowed to take them into public places, such as businesses and government agencies. They are also legally permitted on airplanes and certain types of housing. **A service animal is not the same as an emotional support pet*** Emotional support dog are not specifically trained to conduct specific tasks.
How to Get a Service Dog for a Senior
Your doctor or the mental health professionals can provide you with the specific documentation or emotional support animal letter to meet the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) for owning a service dog. ***As of yet, there is no official government certification process. As a loved-one or family member, you must make sure you are getting a reliable and properly trained animal, so do your homework when finding a reputable program!
***Service dogs are NOT Covered by Medicare***
While no health insurance, private or governmental, covers the cost of a service pet, there are other tips on how you can get one. If you are on disability and receive benefits, you usually get a “back benefits” check, which is substantial. You can use these monies to purchase your service dog.
There are many charities that pair seniors with service dogs at no or low costs. But, there is usually a waiting list.
You can train a service dog yourself, but much of that can depend on the doggie’s personality. The dog needs to be well-behaved, obedient, and calm in public, yet still able to focus on their tasks.
Self-trained service dogs are a viable option since there are no formal certifications or requirements for psychiatric service dog. The ADA’s definition of a service dog is any dog, individually and specifically trained to work for the best interest of a senior with a disability, including sensory, physical, mental health, or intellectual.
There are no ADA specifications or certifications of dogs being professionally trained, however, the dog does need to receive special training for the intended specific person’s disability. The Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act more inclusive definitions of “assistance animals” and “service animal,” respectively, are unaffected or unrestricted by this definition. There is no guarantee for success, but it is certainly a cheaper route.
Emotional Support Animals
One of the most difficult things a senior can go through is trying to manage their environment once they are living or left alone. Empty nests, retirement, and old age can bring with it, loneliness, isolation, and depression. While some turn to a senior living environment, others stay alone. Therefore, doctors may recommend emotional support animals to help seniors cope with their current situations. Here are some of the amazing benefits to having an emotional support pet:
Development of a New Bond. Once you are left primarily alone, even if you live with people, you may spend extended amounts of time in your room. An emotional support pet can help to fill the void loneliness brings. It is like making a new best friend, who never wants you to feel alone. They are great companions.
- Anxiety and Stress Relief. Science has proven that loneliness and isolation can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression, along with other mental health problems like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Labrador retrievers are known to understand their owners moods, and do their best to keep them happy. Getting an emotional support animal for yourself or someone you care about can take the place of the company once issued by humans, and offer stress relief.Health Improvement. Cortisol is a stress hormone that when excreted can raise your blood pressure, trigger a spike in blood glucose levels, increase cholesterol, and play a part in heart attacks. Emotional support animals stimulate the release of serotonin, the body’s natural anti-depressant!
- Improved Memory. Seniors tend to read-up about their animals, as well as, share stories about them. Reading improves memory by stimulating your mind, so reading up about your support pet, can help prevent memory loss.
- Increase exercise! You will more than likely walk a lot more with your pet. This is not only good for your pet, but you get to take in some fresh air, and scenic nature. Science has proven that walking rids the body of excess sugar and cholesterol, among the many other benefits.
- Conversation Pieces. Having a support animal is a great way to meet new people. During a walk or even sitting out on the front porch can help you to meet new friends who share common interests.
- Gives Life a New Meaning. Most seniors have spent a lifetime tending to children and grandchildren. Taking care of the needs of your pet while your pet tends to yours, gives your life added meaning and joy.
- Brings a Sense of Calmness. Some seniors tend to get a bit cranky with their circumstances in life. Emotional support pets know when you’re feeling irritated and have wonderful ways of helping you to calm down.
- Settles Agitation. Some senior adults suffer from agitation when things do not seem to go how they’d want. Emotional support animals know how to detect an agitated person, and they find ways to calm them down. The animal will stay closer to its owner, giving them less time to think of the misfortunes in their lives.
- They Keep You on Your Toes. When it’s bedtime, you both get ready to settle in for the night. Feeding, walking, watering, and loving a pet will keep you on your toes, especially when they are quiet. “Does that mean they’re chewing up your favorite slippers?”