There’s no shortage of research that shows how pets are good for us – not only as a loyal companion but also for the positive impact our furry friends can have on our health.
That holds true for older adults, too, who can benefit greatly from having a pet in their lives as they deal with the inevitable changes that come with aging. Not everyone can take on the responsibility of pet ownerhips. But that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of time spent with friends’ and relatives’ pets, through volunteering with animal care organizations, or visiting therapy animals.
What follows are just some of the ways pets benefit seniors.
1. Pets are good for health
Pets can boost an older adult’s health in more way than one. Here are a few of the health perks of pets for seniors.
- Owning a pet, and the act of petting a cat or dog on a regular basis has been shown to lower blood pressure.
- A Loyola University Chicago study in 2014 showed that patients recovering from joint replacement surgery needed less pain medication if they interacted with a therapy dog daily.
- Research has shown that the presence of pets causes a person’s heart rate and stress levels to drop immediately.
- Plus, seniors who interact with pets over a long period of time have lower cholesterol, decreased depression, and better protection against heart disease and stroke.
2. Pets help ease loneliness
Pets can be great company, especially if you live alone and don’t get the chance to interact with friends and family on a regular basis. Our furry friends also seem to have a sense when you’re feeling lonely and down, and show their love unconditionally.
3. A sense of responsibility and routine
Another benefit of pets for seniors is that caring for an animal requires a sense of responsibility and routine that may be lacking as older adults shed long-held work and social roles. Caring for a pet can provide purpose and establishes a routine that’s partly based on the needs of the pets. It can even improve self-confidence.
There’s no question that grooming, feeding, and exercising pets makes them happy. But as it turns out, these simple acts can bring you happiness, too.
4. Increased social interaction
Pets are not only a great topic of conversation – and most pet owners love to talk about their pets – but taking your dog to the park or on a daily walk around the neighborhood just might help you make new friends. If nothing else, your pet will likely try to make friends!
5. An excuse to exercise
Whether it’s taking your dog for a walk or playing with your cat indoors, another benefit of pets for seniors is that they help make our lives more active. Even the simple act of feeding your pet helps get your muscles and joints moving. And one study showed that adults who regularly walked their dog had a much lower chance of obesity than adults without a dog.
6. Pets provide security
Seniors – particularly those who’ve suffered hearing loss as they’ve aged – don’t always hear it when someone is potentially lurking just outside the home. But animals have a heightened sense of hearing and smell and react quickly to noises – even if they’re only lifting their head in the direction of the sound. Or, they may bark and run to the door.
7. Pets can save lives
Last, but not least, pets can be lifesavers — literally. Research shows that pets are beneficial for people with serious health issues, including:
- Pets for seniors have a therapeutic effect on those with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. Visits from trained therapy dogs provide instant companionship and comfort, as well as a sense of connection for those who are isolated by the effects of dementia.
- Specially trained dogs have been known to detect the presence of cancerous tumors in humans before conventional tests do. In one study, dogs were able to detect colon cancer with over 90 percent accuracy. Experts aren’t entirely sure how dogs know when someone has cancer, but think it’s related to the animal’s keen sense of smell.
- Another benefit of pets for seniors is that they can help patients with diabetes, particularly when the person’s blood sugar is dangerously low. Diabetes service dogs have a highly developed sense of smell that enables them to detect a variety of chemical changes in the body.