The positive power of animals

According to the most recent PDSA animal wellbeing report, 52% of UK adults own a pet. Here at ECL we know all too well the positive benefits of spending time with animals. Our pet therapy sessions are very popular among our Day Services customers who find their time with the animals both calming and uplifting. In celebration of World Animal Day (4 October) we take closer look at why being around them is so beneficial for customers in our Older People Day Services:

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Therapy animals at ELC Colchester

Cute, cuddly and fun to be around, animals are scientifically proven to be good for our wellbeing. Quite simply, spending time with them makes us feel good! It increases the levels of ‘feel good’ hormones serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin in our bodies making us feel happier. And it decreases the production of cortisol (the stress hormone), so it calms us.

The positive effect that animals have on how we feel is something that the care sector has been utilising to benefit patients for a number of years now through the concept of pet therapy.

What is pet therapy?

Pet therapy is an umbrella term for animal assisted therapy and other types of animal assisted activities. These types of activities are increasing in popularity in care settings as more health and social care professionals see visible improvements among people in their care from spending time with animals. The benefits of regular animal assisted therapy include:

  • Lowers the heart rate
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Elevates mood
  • Eases depression
  • Improves relaxation
  • Reduces physical pain
  • Eases emotional pain
  • Reduces aggression and anxiety
  • Improves social behaviour
  • Increases social cohesion

How can it help people with Alzheimer’s and dementia?

For older people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, feelings of anxiety and depression often accompany their illness. Being around animals can help reduce these feelings, keeping them at bay for the duration of the interaction. Animal-assisted therapy has also been found to be effective at improving cognitive function in addition to having a calming effect on the emotions of these individuals.

Therapy animals at ELC Colchester

For some people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia the illness can make them withdraw into themselves and not want to be around others. We have found that pet therapy encourages social interaction among customers that are withdrawn as the animals create a more relaxed setting and are a talking point for them. Even the most reluctant of customers seem to get involved and interact during the visits from the therapy animals. They can also stimulate memories for customers, taking them back to a time in their lives when they may have owned a pet or had a special experience with an animal, which can have a positive effect on their mood.

Speaking of a recent visit from therapy animals at ELC Colchester, Team Leader Katie Craig said “Even our higher need customers that require one to one support came into the room to interact with the puppies and budgies. One customer said it reminded her of a family pet she had when her children lived at home. This sparked memories and a reminiscing discussion among the group which was really beneficial for them.”

The power of unconditional love

We shouldn’t underestimate the benefits that unconditional love can bring. Animals don’t pass judgement; they don’t care that you may be a bit unsteady on your feet or that you are not feeling your best. In fact they have a sixth sense when it comes to working out people’s moods. Therapy pets have naturally empathetic natures and are likely to seek out those who may be feeling a little down or lonely and shower them with love and affection to lift their spirits. Plus, the animals enjoy our company as much as we enjoy theirs, so the benefits are two-way!

Pet therapy at ECL day centres is one of a range of holistic therapies used as part of our innovative approach to dementia care. Other techniques include doll therapy and the use of massage and relaxation techniques to help alleviate the feelings of stress and anxiety often experienced by people with dementia.

For more information about ECL Older People services visit

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