7 Best Therapy Dog Breeds

by Senior Care Staff on March 28, 2012

Dogs are natural companions, often referred to as “man’s best friend,” as they are loyal, loving, and at your side as often as you allow them to be. Simply petting a dog can lower your blood pressure, releasing endorphins for both you and the dog. Almost any dog, when trained properly, can make a good therapy dog. However, certain breeds may be perfectly tailored to your situation. With regard to temperament, size, exercise needs, and coat, some breeds are naturally better suited for your particular lifestyle. Choosing a breed that already compliments your needs can help speed up the training process toward obtaining the therapy dog you need.

  1. For Children

    Hospitalized children may get the best love from a Saint Bernard. These gentle giants love the companionship of children and are quite snuggly, weighing in at around 110 to 200 pounds when fully grown. They love protecting, and are obedient, patient breeds. A Saint Bernard will not snap at a child who tugs on its fur. In the 17th century, Saint Bernards were used as rescue dogs for those who had been trapped by avalanches in the Alpine Pass between Switzerland and Italy. That keen sense of smell and a desire to protect has not faded with time, and is a quality that you can trust around small children who may need a watchful eye.

  2. For Homebodies

    A Pomeranian is the perfect breed for an elderly person who stays home often or anyone who works from home. They will provide companionship all day long and need relatively little exercise beyond the confines of your house or apartment. In fact, they thrive on human companionship. So long as you remain by their side, they will grant you endless love and loyalty. This toy-sized breed has a thick, fluffy coat and a round, teddy-bearish face. They are affectionate and eager; however, they do need to be kept in their place and know that they are not the pack leader. Marie Antoinette and Mozart both owned Pomeranians.

  3. For Insomniacs

    Greyhounds have a quiet temperament that make them the perfect sleeping companion for those who have a restless time getting to sleep. They generally do not bark, are sensitive to harsh tones, and bond deeply with their human counterparts. Indoors, the Greyhound may even be considered lazy. The breed is tall and slender, known for its history of being used as a racing dog. Outdoors, the Greyhound will run after anything it deems as prey, and they can reach tremendous speeds — more than 40 miles per hour. However, this doesn’t negate the fact that, when it’s time for bed, the Greyhound will curl up for some serious, snore-free snoozing. They will look so comfortable that you’ll be lulled into an equally satisfying slumber.

  4. For Arthritics

    For a person with limited mobility, including those with rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis, a Bullmastiff is an excellent choice of dog breed. As one of the largest dog breeds, the Bullmastiff doesn’t need very much exercise — in fact, too much can be taxing on its giant heart. They are very gentle, despite their gruff appearance, and incredibly loyal to their owners. The Bullmastiff was originally bred as a guard dog, but was trained to pin down intruders without harming them. They are bulky and large, with black muzzles.

  5. For Heart Disease

    If you’re suffering from high cholesterol, heart disease, or diabetes, you may benefit from a therapy dog with a love for long strolls in the park. The Airedale Terrier is the perfect choice for this scenario. They will motivate you to get the low-impact exercise you need, and you will never roam alone. A kind breed, the Airedale will be warm toward its owners and friends alike, but isn’t afraid to stand up for itself. Without time for play, the Airedale will become bored and anxious. Thus, when you’re being too lazy for him, he will let you know it’s time to go get some exercise with his persistence. The Airedale has a curly caramel-colored and black coat and lively eyes.

  6. For the Blind

    Labrador Retrievers make excellent seeing-eye dogs, as they are both incredibly intelligent and non-aggressive. The lab also has a strong desire to please his master, a trait not common to all dogs. They are easy to train and retain new skills easily. They generally like all people, even strangers, as well as other animals. They have a soft mouth, meaning they will not bite down when retrieving duck and other game while hunting. This even, warm-hearted temperament makes them perfect guide dogs because they will take all people and situations in stride without spooking easily. The Labrador may be black, blonde, or brown with short, straight fur and a boxy build.

  7. For the Allergy-Prone

    The Standard Poodle is the best breed for those that commonly suffer from allergies, as it’s curly coat is considered to be hypoallergenic. They shed little to no hair. The Poodle’s demeanor is noble, almost aristocratic, and good-natured. They need standard exercise of a daily walk and may become anxious without it, but otherwise just delight in being in the company of their human counterparts. They can be haughty if they feel their owner is meek and must come to know you as an authoritative source, but will shut down if disciplined too strongly. Although they are often referred to as a “French Poodle,” the Poodle more likely originated in Germany from the word “pudel,” meaning “one who plays in water.” The famous haircut sported by the Poodle provides insulation from the cold on the puffy joints, while the sleeker parts of the fur allow for ease in swimming.

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Young Mind from a Healthy Body

by Senior Care Staff on March 16, 2012

Young Mind from a Healthy Body

Most people believe that the only way to maintain a sharp mind is by completing intellectual activities such as reading, solving problems or studying new information. However, studies show that physical exercise is actually highly effective in keeping the mind healthy along with the body. These studies reiterate the importance of physical activity in regards to the overall well-being of a person.

Exercise as a Trigger for Chemical Release

How exactly does exercise aid the brain? A 2011 study conducted by the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil found that older rats that were sedentary showed signs of a reversal of memory impairment after a short exercise session. The exercise consisted of four to six minutes spent on a treadmill.

The memory of the rats was then tested using a maze and an activity that required the rat to remember information to avoid a negative response. After the brief exercise sessions, memory was proven to have been improved through these cognitive tests.

Even the small amount of exercise the previously sedentary rats engaged in during the studies triggered a chemical process in the brain. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) was secreted in the brains of the rats after they had engaged in physical activity. BDNF is a protein in the brain that significantly influences memory, learning ability and the thought process.

A study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles determined that the increase in cognitive ability influenced by exercise was specifically tied to BDNF synthesis and release in the brain.

How Much Exercise Is Enough?

Establishing that exercise is essential for brain health is certainly helpful, but determining the type and duration of exercise that can most benefit brain health is also important.

The Franklin Institute explains that walking is one of the best physical activities for brain health. A simple walk can increase blood flow to the brain, and studies have found a strong correlation between walking for exercise and maintaining good brain health. One study showed that elderly people improved their memory and ability to learn simply by taking a 20 minute walk every day. Additionally, the study group had a lower risk of stroke as compared to their sedentary counterparts.

A 2001 study conducted by the University of California at San Francisco concluded that older women who stayed active maintained more of their cognitive ability when compared to their less active counterparts. The study showed that the greatest decrease in the loss of cognitive ability was found in women who walked at least 113 blocks per week.

Because of the connection found between regular exercise and cognitive function, including at least 20 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week is recommended. A moderate physical activity can consist of any of the following:

  • Riding a bike
  • Swimming at a slow pace
  • Walking briskly
  • Jogging slowly
  • Using an elliptical trainer
  • Dancing
  • Participating in team sports including baseball, softball and volleyball
  • Digging and planting a garden

Although a person can break their exercise sessions up, a person must engage in moderate exercise for at least 10 consecutive minutes to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of exercise. Two exercise sessions of 10 minutes per day provide the most mental and physical benefits for a previously sedentary person.

The Precise Benefits of Exercise for Brain Health

There are a variety of benefits that exercise has in regards to brain health, and an improved memory and capacity for learning are not the limit of these benefits. In fact, a 2001 study conducted by the University of Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom concluded that regular physical exercise could improve mood even in those suffering from depression. The study found that a group of people in the study participating in regular exercise actually maintained a positive mood longer than those who took the anti-depressant Zoloft to regulate moods.

The study also indicated that participants who tried a combination of exercise and Zoloft did not have the same level of mood elevation as those who only exercised. The assumption of researchers is that the Zoloft actually dampened the positive effects of exercise in participants suffering from depression. The results of this study may be particularly useful for patients and therapists who would like to take a drug-free approach to treating depression. Instead of medication, regular exercise may be prescribed to a patient.

The increase in mood in participants in the study was found to be most significant in participants who had been diagnosed with depression before the study. Participants not identified as being depressed prior to the study had a less pronounced increase in mood.

Research involving older populations has shown that engaging in regular physical activity decreases the possibility of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is a debilitating disease that seriously impacts a person’s ability to function and connect with family members, friends and past acquaintances. Because dementia is not a reversible condition, starting an exercise regimen to help prevent this progressive cognitive impairment is important before any signs or symptoms of the disease are detected. Even after a person starts showing signs of dementia, regular exercise can help slow the progress of the disease.

Many people believe that physical exercise has only physical benefits, but it’s been proven that regular activity also keeps the brain healthy. Whether a forgetful person wants to get better at remembering names in a social situation or an aging person want to prevent the possibility of developing dementia, physical exercise in an effective means of improving brain function. Even 20 minutes of walking per day can drastically improve a person’s cognitive ability, and there are physical benefits to be enjoyed as well.

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