Wellness Blog

The Power of Pets: Therapeutic benefits of animal interaction

Discover the therapeutic benefits of animal interaction.

Perhaps we always knew it, but the proof is in! Studies suggest that pets are good for your heart – in every sense  of the word. Interacting with animals has been shown to lower cortisol (a stress-related hormone) levels and blood pressure, reduce loneliness and boost your mood.

“Animals support our physical, mental and emotional well-being, ” explained our favourite clinical geropsychologist and neuropsychologist (and cat owner) Dr Nancy A. Pachana, during a recent UQHL presentation on  the health benefits of human-animal interactions.

Joining Pachana were furry guests Nala and Mufasa, courtesy of Happy Paws Happy Hearts and the RSPCA. At just eight weeks old, the puppies provided instant proof of their influence and charmed all in attendance.

Physical benefits

Pets are attributed to an increase in exercise (e.g. dog walking) and rehabilitation (e.g. in stroke victims through brushing their pet’s coat) for their owners, Pachana explained.

According to the research, petting or talking to dogs leads to improved cardiovascular health,  and both cat and dog owners may experience fewer minor health concerns.

Mental and emotional benefits

The benefits to our mental and emotional well-being are also generous. “Having a pet reduces social isolation for older adults across settings and across varying levels of health and cognitive decline,” Pachana said.

Animals improve psychological well-being and social interaction for those who live alone; and improve social functioning and impulse control for members of animal therapy groups. The studies found  pets buffer the impact of stress, increase self-esteem and reduce anxiety.

Benefits for older persons

Pachana explained the particular importance of animals for older persons, stating that  over 60% of community-dwelling older adults cited pets as a key source of emotional support. 20% of these
ranked their pets as the most important support source .

“Dog therapy also reduced aged care resident’s loneliness and depression and improved cognitive impairment in those with dementia. The presence of animals provided… increased socialisation in nursing home residents.”

(N=120) Ueda (2005, unpublished honours thesis)

Winter Warmer: Lovely Lamb & Barley Soup

While Brisbane might be the capital of the sunny state, it doesn’t stop us from experiencing that winter chill. It’s vital that we nourish our bodies properly throughout the season, to maintain a healthy weight and give our immune system the support it needs.

In later life, our immune response is reduced, which contributes to more infections. There appears to be a connection between nutrition and immunity in seniors. “Micronutrient malnutrition” is a form of malnutrition that is surprisingly common even in affluent countries such as Australia. This occurs when a person is deficient in essential vitamins and trace minerals.

Recently our dietetics service performed a live demonstration of easy to prepare, nutritious meals to inspire over 50s to eat well through the cooler months. Following taste tests from our onlookers (some coming back for a second try – just to be sure, of course!) the feedback on the ‘Lovely Lamb and Barley Soup’ was overwhelmingly positive. The verdict: This nutritious soup is nothing to be sneezed at! A simple recipe that proves that healthy eating this winter doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive or overly time consuming.

If you’re interested in learning more simple, healthy recipe ideas tailored to the needs of over 50s, and you think you might benefit from a personalised eating plan book a dietetics consult with us.

Download the recipe card here

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup (75g) pearl barley
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2 sticks celery, diced
  • 600g lean lamb leg,
  • cut in 2cm cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 2 cups (500ml) salt-reduced chicken stock
  • 3 cups water
  • fresh rosemary, chopped (optional)

Method

  1. Cook barley in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain.
  2. Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add onion and celery. Cook for five minutes stirring occasionally.
  3. Turn heat to high, add lamb and garlic. Cook for five minutes or until lamb is browned.
  4. Add barley, tomatoes, stock and water to pan. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer for one hour or until lamb is tender. Add water if too thick. Serve with a sprinkle of rosemary.

The true value of student care: Intergenerational impact and future-proofing services

What do we mean when we say UQ Healthy Living’s student workforce is an asset to our clients both now and into the future? What is unique about the interactions you have with our allied health team; and could you be contributing to a healthier future for your generation simply by looking after yourself? Let’s look beyond the indisputable value for money and consider the additional and often unexpected benefits offered by a student resourced service.

By 2050, a quarter of the population will be over 65. The large baby boom cohort is currently setting the lifestyle and health trajectories which will carry them into the coming decades. It is vital that we create a sustainable workforce that is adequately trained to support these Australians today and tomorrow.

The disparity between the number of students going on to choose employment in aged care and those who choose more relatable clinical settings, is well recognised. Recent studies found that a positive clinical placement characterised by appropriate training and support in an environment focused on quality care, can produce positive attitudes to older people among students (Wallace et al 2007). Your participation with UQHL’s services exposes practitioners-in-training to the stimulating, dynamic work environment that caring for over 50s offers; and can demonstrate the complex needs and opportunities for allied health care in this space. Our clients positively reflect on ‘giving back’ to assist in the students’ development and their contribution as a client remains invaluable.

In addition to future-proofing your health services, student care brings with it a contagious energy from which our clients draw inspiration. The positive effects of intergenerational interaction are well documented, and there is much academic discussion around the potential born of intercepting life experience and youthful perspective, in a shared and meaningful purpose. A Spanish study (Hernandez 2008) of 179 university students and 101 seniors demonstrated remarkable results in an intergenerational care environment, including reduced stereotypes, improved opinions of each other, and improved state of mind.

Fueled with knowledge from the latest research and eager to explore its applications, our students provide attentive care, and view our client’s success as their own. Furthermore, our clients gladly contribute to the exchange, generously sharing their experiences and working with students to explore treatment pathways.

The student /client partnership can result in genuine connections. Studies show that seniors with a strong network not only live longer, but also cope better with health conditions and experience less depression.  Whereas, lonely people have a faster cognitive decline than those who have more satisfying social connections. Regular interactions with your student practitioners working towards a common goal, builds trust and provides valuable interaction.

Effects of Intergenerational Interaction on Aging, Hernandez; Educational Gerontology, 34: 292–305, 2008
Robinson A et al (2008) Modelling connections in aged care: development of an evidence-based/best practice model to facilitate quality clinical placements in aged care, Report on Stages 1-3, Dept of Health and Ageing, University of Tasmania, Queensland University of Technology, University of South Australia, Edith Cowan University
Wallace, C et al (2007) ‘Teaching nursing home: development of an Australian model’, Geriaction, Spring, 5-11

The myths and realities of social work – and why it might be just what you need

By Rhiannon Gatenby, UQ Healthy Living Social Work Service

There appear to be many misconceptions in the Brisbane community (and further afield!) as to what social work and the role of a social worker is. Some immediately think of the removal of children from homes considered unsafe; people in dire straits without income or support; or victims of partner violence or elder abuse all requiring desperate assistance.

The truth is that while social workers can and do work with these types of people and in these situations – we are not limited to the critical or the dramatic. Social workers are interested in helping and advocating for disadvantaged groups, but we also are interested in a person’s overall wellbeing, from physical, to social, to mental. That’s people just like you.

The support we regularly offer over 50s is varied and might be as simple as linking a socially isolated client with a community group that shares their interests. We might help someone 65 or over navigate My Aged Care online and access any services and funding they may need to live a fulfilling life. We could inform one of our seniors about the process of appointing an Enduring Power of Attorney and walk them through the terms of agreement.

We partner with individuals to achieve their goals, by equipping them with resources and knowledge, and empowering them to take the steps needed to move to where they want to be.

This is why a service like social work compliments UQ Healthy Living so well. To truly promote health and wellbeing for over 50s, we must support more than the physical. An interprofessional health service must also meet the social and psychological needs of our clients to ensure they are healthy and happy in every aspect of their lives.

 

Anytime Omelette: Protein power morning, noon or night

The average adult will have lost up to 6 – 16% of their muscle mass by their fifties. This is known as sarcopenia and is a major cause of weakness, fractures and poor health among older adults. So, what can we do about it? Well, the answer for the most part is delicious.

Combining a protein-rich diet with resistance exercise seems to be the most effective way to fight sarcopenia. One study followed 2,066 seniors over three years and found those who ate the most protein daily lost 40% less muscle mass than people who ate the least.

Our dietetics endorsed Anytime Omelette recipe uses two large eggs to provide 12 grams of high-quality protein, plus there is a variety of fillings to choose from to add extra nutrition and ensure you won’t tire of it quickly.

Recently prepared in a live demonstration by our dietetics service, the feedback was lip-smacking good! This no fuss meal is the ideal solution for an easy, protein rich breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Plus it’s easily adaptable for those cooking for one or two.

If you’re interested in learning more simple, healthy recipe ideas tailored to the needs of over 50s, and you think you might benefit from a personalised eating plan book a dietetics consult with us.

Download the recipe card here

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • dash of milk
  • salt and pepper
  • optional fillings:

– shaved ham

– feta

– baby spinach leaves

– onion

– mushrooms

– capsicum

– asparagus

– cherry tomato

Method

  1. Preheat pan to medium heat
  2. Stir-fry desired fillings (except for feta) for 2 minutes or until slightly soft and set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper.
  4. Pour eggs into pan and let sit for 1-2 minutes or until the edges are set. Add stir fried toppings (and feta if desired) to half of the omelette.
  5. Carefully fold the omelette in half like an envelope and let cook for a further 1-2 minutes, then enjoy!