~ by Richard Sgaglio
Pets can warm our hearts and enrich our lives. This can be especially true for older adults who sometimes feel isolated and alone. They can form strong, meaningful bonds with their four-legged companions and receive health benefits as well. These benefits are varied and differ from person to person. In fact, many older adults report gaining a feeling of general wellbeing and joy from their pet.
Lowers blood pressure
According to a 2019 study by The Mayo Clinic, older adults with a dog had overall better cardiac health than others who didn’t have a dog. According to the study, "In general, people who owned any pet were more likely to report more physical activity, better diet and blood sugar at an ideal level.” Even those who did not increase their physical activity due to a pet saw a cardiac benefit.
Reduces depression and loneliness
The Mayo Clinic study stated that in addition to the cardiovascular benefits of pet ownership, participants in the study were less likely to feel lonely, isolated or depressed. There are several factors for this. One is that pet owners feel needed when a pet is depending on them. It gives them a sense of companionship and wellbeing. It also is a warm cuddly family member that they can’t help feeling good around.
Promotes living in the present
Anyone who has ever had a pet knows that they are work. For example, dogs must be fed and walked multiple times per day. This schedule often helps the older pet owner stay in the present, knowing that at 4:00pm Sparky needs to be fed and then walked. It gives an older adult a sense of timing and perspective in their life. According to a recent article in Aging.com, “Dogs and cats live very much in the present. They don’t worry about tomorrow, which can be a very scary concept for an older person. An animal embodies that sense of here and now, and it tends to rub off on people.”
Increases mobility and independence
Both dog and cat owners tend to be more independent that their non-pet counterparts. This is because pets have needs. They need to be fed, walked, have their litter box changed, to name just a few of the activities of pet ownership. Even those with mobility issues have reported feeling more independent when caring for a pet. Even short walks have shown a benefit for overall mobility and independence of older adults.
Eases anxiety and pain
Feeling anxious can amplify a sense of pain. By reducing anxiety, pets can help ease pain for older adults who may experience conditions such as arthritis. In fact, a recent study published in Reuters Health found that pet therapy after surgery may even reduce the need for pain medication during recovery.
While pet ownership can have some downsides, there is no denying the many health benefits of pets for older adults. When considering adding a furry friend to your life, you should weigh the advantages with the risks to determine whether it is practical for you to adopt one. If you decide to move forward, adopting from shelters is usually much less expensive and comes with the added benefits of giving an unwanted animal a home and possibly saving it from euthanasia. Some shelters even offer reduced adoption fees for older pets and adopters age 55 and up.
Where can you adopt?
You can contact the local ASPCA or the local Humane Society to inquire about adoption. Sites like Petfinder allow potential owners to search for their perfect pet in a nationwide database. Please consider adopting a senior animal – they tend to be a bit calmer then puppies and often are less desirable to younger people and are often overlooked. Senior animals can enrich our lives and are often a great fit for their senior counterparts.
The information in the above article is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.