Seniors with Pets | How Owning a Pet Can Improve the Aging Process
Welcoming home a new pet companion can be an exciting addition to a senior’s life. Bringing home a new animal friend can help seniors be healthier and happier during their golden years. Dogs, cats or other household animals provide companionship to the lonely, eliminating isolation and boredom while also creating motivation for a healthier lifestyle.
“Let’s go!” For most dogs, mentioning the dog park or a walk around the neighborhood is enough to get their tails wagging. For many seniors, having a dog is great motivation to become more active. According to a study conducted by the Gerontologist, positive effects tied to active pet ownership include lower BMI, fewer reported doctor visits and less sedentary time as a result of daily walks, playtime, and grooming activities.
Spending time with a pet is uplifting and proven to be healthy for seniors. As little as just 15 minutes bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone, cortisol, and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. Over a long-term relationship, these interactions have shown a decrease in lower cholesterol levels, improved mood and have shown signs of protecting against heart disease and stroke (Byrne, 2015).
Pets provide crucial mental stimulation for the elderly population. Daily flexibility practices, stimulation through daily contact, and planning an established routine while caring for a pet is key to a happy, healthy pet household.
A SENSE OF PURPOSE
It’s not uncommon for seniors to feel innodated with free time after completing their parenting and professional years. Pets are a great way to pull withdrawn seniors out of their shell and get them engaged in a positive activity such as walking with their pet, visiting a local dog park to meet with friends or participating in grooming activities. This ultimately creates a sense of purpose and helps seniors feel connected with the world, especially if they’ve experienced isolation or loneliness.
PET VISITATION THERAPY
A great option for the elderly that doesn’t require becoming a pet owner is pet visitation therapy. Animals including dogs, cats, and rabbits visit nursing homes, hospitals, and senior centers to spend time with patients and residents. This option gives residents the opportunity to enjoy the animal’s affection without having to care for them on their own. This is also a plausible solution for seniors who reside in residences or facilities that don’t permit pets.
Service dogs are a helpful, social option for seniors with disabilities. Service dogs must pass an extensive training process to prepare to be paired with a human companion. Service dog skills include opening and closing doors, helping their handler get dressed for the day or helping them undress, assisting seniors in wheelchairs with sitting up straight, preventing falls, and even responding to exclusive verbal or nonverbal cues to help the hearing or sight-impaired. In the event of an emergency, service dogs are prepared to perform life-saving tasks including calling 911, opening the door first responders, and laying down on their companion’s chest to help them breathe better. Resources such as the National Service Dog Registry are a reputable source for information on whether this option is a good fit for you or your loved one.
Owning a pet as a senior might be a perfect fit for you or a loved one. Ask your veterinarian, family members, and doctor if this is the right decision for you or your loved one. A pet is a companion, caretaker and friend all in one.
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