It seems just about everyone loves pets, and many of us own at least one four-legged companion. What’s not to love about that rambunctious little dog begging you to throw the ball, or that adorable kitten swatting at your shoestring. But did you know that owning pets has actually been proven to improve both mental and physical health? Great news! So lets touch on a few ways that our furry friends can not only make a senior (and us!) smile, but also make our family healthier at the same time.
Is Pet Ownership Right for Everyone?
First and foremost, the pros and cons of pet ownership must be considered before saying yes to this long term financial commitment for our senior loved one. An in-depth conversation needs to be had between a caregiver and the senior to ensure that the appropriate care can be provided to the pet without adding an unintentional burden into the senior’s life.
There are at least a few questions that should be answered prior to ever taking the leap into pet ownership:
- Do they have the time for a pet? A lot of seniors may spend most of their time at home, which would allow for ample one-on-one time with their pet, however not all do. Between doctor’s visits, family gatherings, and social events, not everyone will have the time. Some seniors may have the time, but choose not to take on this responsibility for other reasons, and that’s okay too.
- Have they had a pet before? First-time pet owners can make wonderful owners for pets; however, having some previous experience with pet ownership can be more favorable. This is especially true when it comes to any young animal that you may be considering introducing to the home.
- Do they have the capability to easily care for a pet? Pets will increase the activity level of any owner, so it is imperative that a senior’s mobility is adequate. Also, reliable transportation is a necessity for planned, routine veterinary visits, but also those unplanned sick visits that will inevitably come along.
- Is there a backup plan for the pet if something happens to your senior loved one? Although no one wants to think about, what happens if a senior’s lifestyle has to change. What if your family member moves to a long term care facility that does not allow pets? What if your senior loved one gets sick? A backup plan for who cares for their pet must be in place prior to ever owning a pet.
The Benefits of Pet Ownership
Now, let’s get to the good stuff! There are endless benefits to pet ownership once you have determined the time and financial means to care for a pet are adequate. Pets are always happy and excited to see us, and this can give seniors a loyal friend that provides them a feeling of love and need- something they may not often, unfortunately, feel if they spend the majority of their day alone. Caring for pets in the way of grooming, petting, walking on a leash, and feeding 2-3 times per day can give seniors a sense of purpose and make them feel appreciated, both at the same time.
On top of that, pets offer a tremendous amount of other health benefits that may go unrealized. The publication Frontiers in Psychology features an article on the human-animal bond and identifies the potential benefits and risks of pet ownership and animals in a therapeutic setting for older adults. Some of these include:
- Cardiovascular health: Research has shown that pets can be associated with lower blood pressure, lower heart rates, and faster recovery time during mental stress in older populations. The American Heart Association even made a statement suggesting that pet ownership may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Depression and Anxiety: Animal-assisted activities have been linked to reductions in depression symptoms for a variety of populations. In particular, the elderly in assisted living and other institutions show the greatest improvements, including those seniors with cognitive impairment, dementia, disabilities, and those suffering from mental illness.
- Loneliness and Social Support: Older pet owners between the ages of 55 and 84 years of age have reported less loneliness, increased social interactions, and an overall improvement in their quality of life with pets.
- Physical Activity and Falls: Dog owners in particular are much more likely to be physically active. One study this publication identifies showed that independent living older adults who were dog owners spent more time walking and less time sitting when compared to their non-dog-owning counterparts.
- Quality of Life and Life Satisfaction: Interacting with animals can diffuse some of the stressors aging adults may experience as they move through life transitions. Interestingly, one study even found that caregivers of a spouse with dementia report a higher attachment to their pets after the onset of their spouse’s dementia as well.
Animal Assisted Therapy
It’s important to note that for those who are unable to care for a pet on their own, therapy animals are a great option. American Senior Communities provides a wealth of information on what is known as Animal Assisted Therapy. Pet therapy utilizes animals to interact with seniors to improve their quality of life. All of the health benefits listed above can be applied to those taking advantage of Animal Assisted Therapy on a routine basis. Ensure you check with your loved one’s assisted living facility to see if pet therapy is offered.
If your senior family member is still living independently at home, check with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs to find providers of pet therapy services in your area, including home visits. Pets can offer so many benefits to an elder’s health, that whether it is their own pet, or a visit from a therapy pet, it may be a fundamental part of improving their overall life.
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Dwell at Home is not a licensed medical professional and all information provided is provided “as-is” with no warranties. You should consult a licensed physician for any questions related to your health. Dwell at Home makes no guarantee about any application or third party web site mentioned in any article on this web site.