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Canine visitors bring "paws"-itivity to Senior Care Unit

Therapy volunteer Brenda Hickman said she keeps bringing her dog Sammie to the Senior Care Unit at SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital in Audrain because she has seen how valuable just a little unconditional canine love can be. (KRCG)

Twenty-two percent of adults 55 and older suffer from dementia, depression, or other mental health issues, according to the American Psychological Association.

In this week's Family First, KRCG 13 visited the Senior Care Unit at SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital in Audrain, which provides inpatient care for older adults with mental health needs.

In addition to other therapies, patients at St. Mary's Senior Care Unit are visited by therapy dogs each week.

Clinical Social Worker and Regional Social Services Manager Kelly Staddie said she believes the weekly therapy dog visit provides more than just entertainment for patients. "Patients just absolutely adore them. It really helps to decrease anxiety and depression," she said. "I think pets just have a naturally calming and soothing effect."


Therapy volunteer Brenda Hickman said she keeps bringing her dog Sammie to the Senior Care Unit at SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital in Audrain because she has seen how valuable just a little unconditional canine love can be. "The dogs just bring things out of people that nothing else can," she said. "During one of our first visits, there was a gentlemen here who hadn't talked to the staff in three days. He started petting Sammie, and before we were through, he was first talking to Sammie, and then he was talking to the therapist. So in that time of just one hour, we saw a miracle happen."

Staddie said while the therapy dogs bring comfort and peace to the patients, they also bring happiness to the staff at the Senior Care Unit. "When these pets come, it's a joy to see them interacting with the patients that we've seen struggling day after day," she said. "It's brought tears to our eyes before, it's very heartwarming."

Hickman said that's why she and her fellow volunteers bring Sammie, Sparkle, and their friends back every week. "You know, it is a time commitment to train your dog, and then put in the hours to do these visits," she said. "But I can't think of any better way to spend your time if you love your pets and want to give back to your community."

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