Furry friends can instantly brighten up your day. But do you know that pets have a greater impact than you think?
Seniors in particular can benefit from a pet’s companionship on many levels, including their emotional, mental and even physical health. Being involved in the care of another life can give our elderly loved ones a sense of purpose, belonging and commitment in their golden years and help improve overall quality of life.
In the 1960s, child psychologist and professor emeritus of psychology Dr. Boris Levinson accidentally discovered how his pet dog helped his young patients open up, allowing him to build trust and rapport with them. The term ‘pet therapy’ was coined by Dr. Levinson, as he conducted more research about the health benefits of being around pets. He then authored books regarding the subject: Pet-oriented Child Psychotherapy and Pets and Human Development.
In a clinical setting, an animal-assisted therapy program works simply by having a dog or cat (or any pet) present, based on the patient’s preference. Reports suggest a significant reduction in pain, anxiety, depression, and fatigue for individuals with different kinds of health problems who joined the program.
Pet therapy has been used in various settings, from hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, universities and community programs.
But you don’t need to enroll in any pet therapy program- Seniors at home can enjoy the health benefits of having pets, simply by getting a pet companion and bonding with it!
The 2018 National Poll on Healthy Aging conducted among older adults aged 50 to 80 by the University of Michigan revealed the following findings:
Loneliness can be fatal- increasing the risk for heart diseases by 29% and stroke by 32%. Furthermore, studies suggest that social isolation leads to a 30% more chance of dying in the next seven years.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 20% of adults aged 60 and up suffer from a mental or neurological condition.
It is no secret that social connectedness is key to lower levels of anxiety and depression, and to improve overall mental health.
Apart from the warm companionship from your furry friends themselves, pets can be a great icebreaker, and help you to find common ground with other people. New interests and activities can open up, such as projects and causes related to animal welfare, and you can get involved in pet support groups and others.
A sedentary lifestyle is associated with all sorts of problems: increased mortality rate, high risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity and various kinds of cancer. Physical inactivity is also associated with mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression.
Physical exercise is important regardless of age. For older adults aged 65 years and above, 2 and a half hours of moderate exercise per week is recommended.
Having a dog is a great motivator to make walking a part of your daily life. Keeping your pet well-fed and groomed, and playing with your pets require some level of physical movements too.
Spending your day with someone who is always excited to see you can provide a boost of serotonin- the feel good hormone that relieves stress and keeps anxiety at bay. Pets look beyond your age, abilities and appearance, and remind you that you are always loved and needed.
This commitment to another life gives older individuals a sense of usefulness and value- after all, isn’t it very satisfying to take care of another living thing (especially when your kids are all grown-up and independent)?
A lack of purpose leads to a variety of mental and health conditions: cognitive decline, weakened immune system, mental illness, high blood pressure, and even early death.
On the other hand, structuring your day gives purpose to your daily life and helps keep your mind sharp.
Don’t feel like getting out of bed? Well, your pet wants you to and getting up and around is actually a good thing! Playing, feeding, walking and grooming your pet can help keep you busy and alert.
Seniors who feel more connected to life are also more likely to eat well and engage in healthy lifestyle practices.
Research suggests that elderly pet owners recover from illnesses more quickly, take less medication, are less prone to cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and are overall happier emotionally. They can enjoy better mobility too, due to increased physical activity.
Bringing in another living being into your home is a big commitment. Though furry pals come with a lot of health benefits, they come with much extra work too.
Before taking the leap, here are some things that you need to consider:
If the answer is no, then you might consider more low-maintenance pets, such as a cat, fish, hamster or even a tortoise (Can’t help but share this cute story about an elderly Japanese gentleman and his lovable tortoise).
There is no harm in asking others to help you out. In case you do not have younger family members living with you, you can opt to avail of dog-walking services.
Help from others will also come in handy when you need to leave your house for a couple of days and hours. You have to ensure that someone will be available to feed, groom and play with your pet when you are not around, so they won’t feel neglected or lonely.
According to this 2021 Statistica report, the costs of taking care of a dog can add up to $3,724 per year, with the highest expense items being food, insurance and healthcare. For cats, the average annual cost is $2,500.
However, not all pets are that expensive. There are several lower-maintenance options, such as fish, hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, etc.
Taking in a pet companion is definitely fun and comes with a ton of health and mental benefits. However, make sure to carefully match your choice of pet (or your decision to have a pet or not) with your physical and financial capacities.
If you do choose to get a pet, here’s a guide from the city of Vancouver on the process of adopting one. If you cannot give your full-time commitment to this additional responsibility, consider pet therapy services instead- they can match you with the right pets and service, based on your needs and convenience.
P.S. At Home2stay, we love pets and we enjoy having this furry friend around. Say hello to our Charlie!