In 2017, 68 percent of all households in the United States owned pets, up from 56 percent in 1988. For fellow animal lovers, the reason why is obvious – unconditional love. But many people don’t realize that there are also other benefits that are validated by numerous research studies. Animals can have a positive effect on our social lives, our health and our overall emotional well- being. For seniors, there is no better way to decrease loneliness and stress than to have a pet in their home. Whether you live independently or in an assisted living facility, the best medicine can be named Fido or Miss Kitty.
Increased Social Activity – Many seniors feel isolated as they get older. They may have lost close friends or family members and there are less opportunities to make new friends as we age. However, a pet (especially a dog) can change that. Since dogs are pack animals, most welcome social interaction with both people and other dogs. This encourages us to put ourselves out there as well. In fact, many of us know people who met their spouses through their pets. It is an instantaneous ice-breaker to bond over animals. We brag about them like children and we love regaling other people with their antics. Cat or dog videos, anyone?
Healthier Lifestyle – Although there are times when we all dread having to get up and take the dog for a walk, there is no better way to jumpstart our day. The health benefits of a walk are obvious but when we see that tail wag, it is hard not to feel our mood elevate as well. And for those of you who are cat lovers, there is no excuse not to take them out for a jaunt as well. Cats may not be as social but they love to explore and check out their surroundings. And simply by having pets in our everyday lives, we can lower our blood pressure and reduce our cholesterol and even triglyceride levels.
Emotional Well-being – As we age, depression can be an issue. It’s hard not to think about what the future will bring and that can often lead to anxiety. However, animals live in the “here and now” and they don’t dwell on the future. There is a lesson in that for all of us. Rather than focus on what may or may not happen tomorrow, we can try to enjoy each moment as it comes. According to Dr. Leo Bustad, “Pets restore order to our lives, provide a more secure grasp of reality, and link their owners to a community of caring, concern, sacrifice, and intense emotional relationships.” Psychologist Penny B. Donnenfeld, has even witnessed animals' ability to rev up elder owners' memories. "I've seen those with memory loss interact and access memories from long ago," she says. "Having a pet helps the senior focus on something other than physical problems and negative preoccupations about loss or aging."
In summary, animals can enrich our lives in so many ways. So if you don’t already have a furry friend, think about adopting. In fact, there are many organizations that specialize in matching seniors with older pets that are already trained.
While they may no longer have the exuberance of a puppy, they also won’t need to be potty-trained and they can still become your best friend. As George Eiliot once said, “Animals are such agreeable friends ― they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms."
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