Owning a pet can have substantial physical and psychological benefits for an elderly person. Dogs especially can provide an older person with companionship, security and a reason to pursue physical activity. While an elderly person must consider the work and responsibility that comes with owning an animal, the pros to pet-owning can far outweigh any cons.
Benefits of Pet Ownership For the Elderly
Call it what you will – pet therapy, pet-assisted therapy, or pets caring for elderly owners – the benefits of animal ownership for seniors have been documented and understood for decades. Pets help relieve stress, alleviate boredom, and provide devotion and companionship for elders across the country. Loneliness is a contributor to the failing health of many seniors. Ensure the quality of life for your parent by taking every opportunity to expose him or her to resources that will help prevent boredom, depression, and feelings of inadequacy or lack of self-worth. The benefits of pets for the elderly Cats and dogs are the most common types of pets owned by the elderly, but rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, and turtles are also popular choices. Pet ownership can:
- Encourage activity for seniors
- Offer a greater sense of worth
- Offer security to their owners
- Lower blood pressure
- Relieve stress
- Combat loneliness
- Ease depression
There’s nothing so comforting as to be able to hug a pet and be rewarded with a trusting look, a wag of the tail, and even a sloppy kiss or two. Back in 1980, Erika Friedmann, Ph.D., and professor of Health and Nutrition Sciences for Brooklyn College in New York studied the effect of pets on heart disease patients. Her co-researcher, Aaron Katcher, MD, reported, “The presence of a pet was the strongest social predictor of survival … not just for lonely or depressed people, but everyone – independent of marital status and access to social support from human beings.” Only a few years later, another study was performed that showed the benefits of animal ownership by elderly individuals:
- 57% actually confided fears and worries to their pets
- 65% said petting or caressing their pets made them feel better
- 82% said that owning a pet made them feel better when they were sad
- 95% spent time each day talking to his or her pet
Pets offer the elderly, both those living at home and those in assisted living or long-term care facilities, comfort, and companionship. Experts speak out on pets for the elderly Foundation gives results from the Baker Medical Research Institute, Australia’s largest cardiac center, on its research page. Studies show that pet ownership:
- Lowered cholesterol levels
- Reduced systolic blood pressure in female owners
- Reduced rates of developing heart disease
The Pet Information Bureau in Washington, D.C., believes that pet ownership is “especially important in increasing interest in life – pets give the elderly something to care for, as well as providing an opportunity for exercise and socialization.”
“Call it what you will – pet therapy, pet-assisted therapy, or pets caring for elderly owners – the benefits of animal ownership for seniors have been documented and understood for decades.”
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Even more, pronounced than the physical benefits of owning a pet are the psychological benefits many elderly people enjoy after buying or adopting a pet. Pets help relieve the sense of loneliness that many seniors experience and help decrease incidents of depression in the elderly. Animals are especially beneficial in helping an older person work through the loss of a spouse or loved one. Seniors who own pets tend to take better care of themselves and take part in more social events and outings. Animals also offer many older people an enhanced sense of security, which can reduce the person’s stress levels.
When taking on a pet, an elderly person should weigh some concerns against the potential benefits. Pets do require a certain amount of time and physical care, so it is important the potential pet owner is sure he is able to take on the responsibility or that he has a caregiver or family member who is willing to help. Potential pet owners should also be tested for allergies to make sure the pet will not cause any health problems. Finally, keep in mind that many seniors live on fixed incomes and may not be able to afford the costs that come with a cat or a dog.
Choosing a Pet
Many kinds of animals are suitable for elderly people, but dogs tend to provide the kind of companionship many seniors seek. Small dogs are often easier to handle than larger ones, especially if the person lives in a small condo or seniors apartment complex. Puppies can also be troublesome, so look for slightly older dogs that have already been trained. Recommended dog breeds for elderly people include terriers, chihuahuas, cocker spaniels, and other small- or medium-sized, even-tempered dogs.