For millennia, there has been a special relationship between people and animals. In healthcare, animals are being used in increasingly diverse roles to help patients as studies continue to explore more ways animals can contribute to our health.
The National Institutes of Health Human Animal Interaction Research Program has found that animals are good for more than just a smile.
Studies have found that interacting with animals reduces cortisol levels – a stress-inducing hormone – and can lower blood pressure, which may reduce risk of heart attack or stroke.
Other studies have shown that patient-animal interactions can help improve fine motor skills and balance, along with a host of other psycho-social and emotional benefits, including reducing feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and grief; increasing self-esteem and willingness to participate in therapy; and enhancing focus, attention, and problem-solving skills.
For patients who have had a life-altering injury or illness, bolstering emotional wellbeing is an essential component of the treatment process.
Recognizing the therapeutic benefits of animals, many hospitals, health systems, and other care providers have integrated animal-assisted therapy programs into the clinical setting in various ways.
Outside the hospital, therapy dogs in particular are being used for broader purposes than ever before by assisting patients with physical, cognitive, and developmental disabilities increase their independence.
Just one more reason these furry, four-legged helpers have earned their title of “man’s best friend.”
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