The Benefits of Dog Companionship for Senior Communities

By: Karen Acton, Vice President, Resident Care, Sunrise Senior Living

As people enter their retirement years, it’s important for them to maintain the special bonds they’ve shared with dogs. This is especially important to help make the transition easier for those moving into an assisted living community. The companionship of a dog encourages residents to stay physically active, promotes socialization and even offers numerous health benefits.

Sharing the responsibilities of caring for a dog allows residents to take turns in walking, feeding and other responsibilities. In addition, dogs promote social interaction with neighbors, family members and caregivers by helping residents feel more comfortable leaving their rooms or homes. This may help avoid the feelings of social isolation that sometimes occurs as people age.

Besides providing comfort and companionship, dogs also offer health benefits. Studies have shown that these benefits include: lower blood pressure; lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as healthier heart rates; increased physical activity that helps promote healthier joints and flexibility; reduced stress levels. Even talking or cuddling with a dog helps ease chronic pain from arthritis or migraines. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, seniors with companion animals are more active, cope better with stress and are healthier overall than their pet-less counterparts.

Our four-legged friends may even aid those who experience memory loss. Many senior communities offer pet therapy programs to help residents since it has been shown that pets may also help increase brain activity, which can assist with symptoms of depression.

Not only do pet programs benefit residents, but they also save the lives of homeless dogs.  For instance, many community dogs living in Sunrise Senior Living communities across the United States are saved from local shelters and may be considered seniors themselves. Older pets are often passed over at shelters for younger dogs or puppies, but older animals are considered a better fit for communities since their calm demeanor is well-suited for residents.

Dogs truly are our best friends as evidenced by the numerous benefits associated with their companionship. Not only do they enhance the lives of seniors, but they also help their families feel at ease knowing their loved one will have the love and companionship of a furry friend. Perhaps the best prescription for a long, happy and healthy life is opening your heart to a dog.


About Sunrise Senior Living
Sunrise Senior Living opened its first community in 1981 as a resident-centered environment. Until then, the only available senior care was in institutional-like facilities otherwise known as nursing homes. With their new approach to senior care, they began a movement to champion the quality of life for all seniors. Based in McLean, Virginia, the company now serves nearly 30,000 residents in communities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

To learn more about the Pets Program, visit


Author’s Bio
Karen Acton is vice president of Clinical Services for Sunrise Senior Living and has been an Registered Nurse for 28 years. Karen is known and well-regarded as a resident and patient advocate and believes in empowering fellow team members, as well as residents and families by delivering health education and nursing care that enhances wellness and quality of life.

Karen is a graduate of Union Memorial School of Nursing and has extensive experience in emergency medicine and critical care medicine. She has been married for more than 27 years and has two children. She lives in Severna Park, Maryland, and enjoys spending time with family and friends, cooking, college basketball, the beach, and keeping busy with her four English Bull Terriers.

Photo Credit: Sunrise Senior Living

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