Stroke Patients Benefit From Viewing & Interacting With Animals

Watching and interacting with animals can be helpful for patients recovering from a stroke. If your loved one will need short-term rehabilitation in the quest for a full recovery, consider a facility that has animals at the site or has them brought to the facility occasionally.

Types of Animals at Nursing & Rehab Facilities

It may be surprising to learn the variety of animals that can be helpful for rehab patients. Dogs are probably the most well-known example of therapy animals, and some nursing centers have canine and feline residents to provide companionship and affection. Many facilities are branching out and welcoming horses, llamas, goats, rabbits and hens to their acreage.

Of course, not all rehab centers have the resources for these types of animals. However, even a facility that encourages squirrels, chipmunks and birds to visit the yard, or that has an aviary or aquarium inside, is beneficial.

Benefits of Animals for Stroke Rehab Patients

Taking an Interest in Watching Animals

People who have experienced a stroke and need to spend some time in long or short term rehabilitation may feel depressed, anxious and frustrated. They may find their surroundings less stimulating than what they are normally accustomed to. Watching hens peck around in the dirt, squirrels frolicking in the grass or small birds in an aviary sparks interest. 

Being Motivated to Get Outdoors

Rehab facilities can use the prospect of seeing outdoor animals up close as motivation to go outside. Patients also may look forward to moving along a sidewalk with a dog, whether the individual is in a wheelchair or able to walk with assistance.

Physical therapy assistants encourage the patients to stand up from a wheelchair, to walk with a walker and to put forth just a little extra effort than they did the day before. These individuals may become distracted enough by the presence of animals that they walk further than they normally would without even realizing it.

Getting Occupational Therapy Time

Stroke patients can rebuild their skills with enjoyable activities such as walking, brushing and tossing balls to dogs. They also might brush and feed hay and other treats to horses and llamas. These activities require different types of stances and gait, hand gripping and arm movements. 

Connecting With Visitors

People in general, and especially youngsters, may feel nervous about visiting their loved ones in a skilled nursing facility. That's especially true if the patient has some disabilities that children find difficult to understand. Being able to watch birds, aquarium fish and other animals, and perhaps talk about what those animals are up to provides an easy point of connection for everyone. 

Relevant Research

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) sessions include the patient and the therapist, along with a therapy animal and its human companion. Patients feel less anxious about talking with the animal -- usually a dog -- as there won't be problems with language comprehension. 

One small study looked at stroke patients with language issues who received AAT for one set time frame and traditional speech-language therapy for another time frame. In this study, there was no significant difference in goal achievement, but participants reported positive aspects of therapy with animals. They felt more motivated during this therapy and found the sessions more enjoyable. 

What You Can Do Now

Find out if the hospital where your loved one is staying knows of facilities providing short-term rehab that offer any animal-related activities. You can also search for these facilities online. Contact the centers and learn more about what they offer. Your loved one will appreciate this extra step you take toward making that time spent in rehab more emotionally positive.