Dogs can help senior citizens cope with social isolation and start over

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Filipa Brito

Dog is Man’s best friend, indeed. In Porto, Ânimas (Associação Portuguesa para a Intervenção com Animais de Ajuda Social) is implementing the “projecto Envolver” to help senior citizens take the first steps into an active life, following two lockdowns and preventive restrictive measures. The project is about encouraging the elderly to go back to an active life with the help of these companion animals that play an important role in reducing stress and anxiety. This project also features an application for those interested in taking therapist training. Participation in the programme is free of charge for the elderly population.

The “Projeto Envolver” is addressed particularly to the elderly population, the most affected by the Covid-19 self-isolation preventive measures. The initiative is implemented by the Social Services, in the Paranhos parish.

“With the lockdown, the elderly lost friends within senior universities, choral groups, the church itself, among other activities, and we thought we could establish a project to motivate these people step into an active life, again”, explained to Lusa Agency Abílio Leite, president of Ânimas.

Ânimas has been developing projects that boost animal and human interaction in a social assistance rationale, since 2002. People have muted stress responses with dogs, and “being near a dog calms people, by reducing their stress levels and their blood pressure”, Abílio Leite furthered.

The first phase of the “Projeto Envolver” features activities that involve interaction between people and dogs to heighten the feeling of support and empathy.

The development of interpersonal relationships will enhance the need to get-together with other people, as the Ânima president explained. The entire process is monitored by a psychologists that ensure support and safety.