Pet ownership can offer many benefits, especially for older adults who live alone and may experience social isolation. Loneliness and isolation can increase the risk for dementia, heart disease, stroke, and depression. We often think of dogs as providing companionship to seniors at home, and in care facilities where therapy canines can interact with older adults. But visiting with cats also improves both physical and mental health, lowering the heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels.
According to the Institute on Aging, more than 33 percent of adults over 45 feel lonely, and 1 in 4 people over the age of 65 are considered socially isolated which is associated with a 50 percent increased risk of dementia, a 29 percent increased risk of heart disease and a 32 percent greater risk of stroke. Social isolation can also contribute to depression, cognitive decline, obesity, a weakened immune system, and anxiety.
There is more access today to visiting therapy cats in care facilities, but with the obstacles faced during the pandemic, cat companion visits also went virtual. In certain situations due to distance or other challenges, in-person therapy pet visits are not possible. But a new hotline, sponsored by Purina Cat Chow and Pet Partners, provides free virtual therapy cat sessions. Although nothing replaces the feeling of a warm cat purring on your lap, a virtual visit with a therapy cat can still boost mood and help to alleviate social isolation. Some of the cats in the program may be able to perform a trick or are generally entertaining with their regular antics.
Not a cat person? Project Canine allows visitors to spend time with therapy dogs on their own schedule with its Virtual Therapy Dog Visits channel on YouTube.
Facilities can learn more about Pet Partner virtual visits by following this link to the program website.