Animal Companionship Improves Senior Health

The encouragement that animals provide people — especially our seniors — is remarkable. People with pets cope better with stress and depression. Pets provide the antidote to loneliness: unconditional love. Now, evidence suggests that our furry friends can be a real benefit to our senior citizens, helping them live longer and healthier.

In the peer reviewed paper “Emotional Benefits of Dog Ownership”, Eve Beals, Ph. D in Clinical Psychology, concisely outlines the benefits of nurturing a pet: “Pet owners remain engaged socially, have less depression, suffer less loneliness, feel more secure, have more motivation for constructive use of time and require less medication that non-pet owners. Animal companionship facilitates establishing friends, is a social lubricant, gives a reason to get up in the morning and is an icebreaker.”

According to The Pets for the Elderly Foundation, Medicare patients with pets have fewer doctor visits than similar patients without pets. They also note that stroking a pet can lower your blood pressure and people with pets live, on average, 2 years longer than those without.

Studies show that older pet-owning citizens have lower cholesterol levels than non-owners, helping to reduce their risk for heart disease. Furthermore, other studies suggest that pet owners have a better chance for long-term survival after surviving a coronary event than non-pet owners.

We should acknowledge the safety benefits for senior pet owners. Animals can help alert you in dangerous situations like fires and gas leaks. A barking dog can protect your home from intruders, deterring them from coming inside. Some pets are even trained to detect signs and symptoms of illness, which can keep an elderly person from severely injuring their body.

Our four-legged friend’s help seniors create routines and get them to do things they aren’t used to, such as walking the dog, changing their cat’s litter box, feeding, grooming or playing with their pet.

If your pet joins you on walks, then you’re more than likely going to meet new people. Social engagement is vital for seniors who want to live a healthier life.

Pets can give an elderly person a great sense of self and help increase self-esteem since pets need and rely on their owners for virtually every aspect of their caretaking.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, caring for a cat or dog helps elderly people overcome depression or loneliness. Whether that be from the loss of a loved one, not having family or friends nearby to interact with, or not being able to get out much, having a pet gives seniors a sense of purpose since they have to take care of their pet and think about things other than their own problems.

Even for elderly patients in nursing homes, animal-assisted therapy has shown to help patients decrease their anxiety levels and give them something to look forward to.

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