The Benefits of Pets for Seniors

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dog and senior

Let’s face it; getting older can be a lonely experience. From your children growing up and starting their own families to friends and loved ones transitioning to the afterlife, finding the energy to participate in everyday activities can be challenging.  For seniors, pets offer a way to reduce stress, increase mobility, and even lower blood pressure. Here are some benefits that pets can help seniors bring joy back to their lives in so many ways. 

Decreases Feelings of Isolation

Imagine waking up one day with no one around, then you look over and are greeted by a gentle nudge or a reassuring look that everything will be okay. Being alone for the first time in years can seem overwhelming, but therapy animals have helped many seniors battle feelings of isolation and loneliness. Dogs and cats are often the most logical option as a companion animal, but birds, fish, rabbits, amphibians, and even horses can make an excellent alternate option. A companion animal is different from an assistive animal in that they don’t require any specific training. Companion animals can offer amusement, psychological support and company to their owners. In most cases, a companion animal is just an extension of your family. 

Improves Mental Health 

Whether you’re living at home or in an assisted living or long-term care facility, pets can offer you many health benefits. Pets offer a way to reduce stress by helping with feelings of loneliness and depression.  It’s no secret that therapy animals are the most trustworthy companions for people with disabilities. An Australian study researching the correlation between mental health disorders and psychiatric assistance dogs (PAD) found that 94% of patients experienced reduced anxiety through tactile stimulation. Also, 71% of the patients reported that nudging/pawing helped bring them back to the present. 

 

Seniors going through any type of trauma or mental condition, from dementia, to Alzheimer’s, to substance abuse would benefit immensely from a therapy pet. Sometimes mental disorders can be isolating, making it hard to reach out to doctors, family or friends for help. Therapy pets offer an additional security element to your life by providing their owners with renewed confidence and reduced stress while making it easier to communicate with others. 

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Lowers Blood Pressure

By reducing stress levels, pets can help lower blood pressure. The American Heart Association discovered that seniors who owned pets experienced lowered blood pressure and even experienced smaller heart rate fluctuations than non-pet owners. 

 

Increases Physical Activity

From improving cardiovascular functionality to aiding in bone health, pets can be extremely beneficial to your physical health. Of all pets, dogs, especially those that are more active and enjoy walking, present the most benefit to physical activity. The Center for Disease Control suggests the average adult needs about 150 minutes a week of moderately impacted physical activity to support good health. So yes, even a brisk walk with your furry friend would qualify as a moderately intense workout. The benefits stretch beyond the physical and improves brain health, especially for those battling dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Increases Social Interaction

For older people living alone, having a pet forces you out of the house, exercising and meeting people. The increased interaction can work magic for your emotional health. When maintaining a daily routine is essential, having a pet also encourages a sense of responsibility. Regardless of what animal you chose, owning a pet offers seniors a way to express their compassion and care while fulfilling their need to feel useful, boost self-esteem, and even help repair relationships with others. Another great thing to remember is that pets will often help promote human interaction with minimal effort. Any dog owner will agree that simply taking their pet for a walk promotes human interaction. In most cases, strangers who would normally pass you by are suddenly initiating a conversation focused on your pet or simply offer you a kind smile. While this may seem daunting for some, for others, it’s a welcomed connection from a passerby that can brighten even the darkest days. 

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It’s undeniable that owning a pet has significant health benefits; however, it’s crucial to ensure that you find the right pet for yourself. It’s true owning a cat or dog requires more care and attention than a goldfish, so it’s essential to know the level of commitment you can offer to a pet. It’s a good idea for seniors to consider their own needs and the needs of the animal. While pets make great companions, different animals come with their own set of pros and cons. Adopting a bird, for example, poses its own challenges. Before adopting any pet, ensure you can meet the specific requirements of that animal. Here are some general guidelines to consider when choosing a pet.

 

Cat and dog needs:

  • Daily walks
  • Fresh food and water daily
  • Daily interaction
  • Regular maintenance like grooming and trimming
  • Occasional veterinary visits for exams

 

Fish/Aquarium needs:

  • Daily food
  • Weekly tank cleaning
  • Occasional filter changes

Bird needs:

  • Fresh food and water daily
  • Weekly cage cleaning
  • Regular nail trimming

 

A common misconception people make is thinking that they can’t have pets when entering assisted living. However, there are many tools available to help you search for the right assisted living facility that accepts pets. Depending on the options available in your area, some assisted living communities may offer more personalized care for your pets at an additional cost, while others may out-source service outside vendors. 

 

Before transitioning to assisted living, it’s a good idea to talk with your family about bringing a pet with you. An important question to ask yourself is what options are available if one’s health declines? It’s always important to plan for the future and be realistic. As we get older, our mobility and energy changes, which can make it difficult to care for a pet properly.