It’s no secret people across the world love their pets. In fact, some researchers believe humans first domesticated dogs as far back as 40,000 years ago! So, even prehistoric societies invested valuable time, energy, and resources into caring for their pets—something that would seem to have been a luxury. Clearly there are deeper reasons why humans are so intimately connected to domesticated animals.
And while millions of people appreciate their pets, some may not realize they’re particularly beneficial to aging populations and folks with medical ailments. As we celebrate this year’s, “Love Your Pet” day, consider these specific ways dogs and cats improve the lives of society’s most vulnerable:
An old saying refers to dogs as, “man’s best friend.” And while the phrasing is a bit antiquated, pets do provide great companionship. Many people are separated from friends and families as they age, while people with medical conditions are often home bound. And of course, COVID-19 has only made isolation worse.
Dogs and cats aren’t a substitute for human interaction, but they can certainly ease loneliness. In fact, furry companions are especially welcome to people who have recently suffered the loss of a spouse. They also help provide stability to seniors who feel anxious when moving into new homes.
While pets benefit aging and vulnerable folks through companionship and love, they also help encourage engagement. A senior’s interaction with her dog or cat can be physically and mentally stimulating. In fact, Alzheimer’s specialists have even found success using dogs and cats as tools to interact with non-verbal and shy patients.
Engagement is especially important in light of COVID-19 lockdowns and social-distancing recommendations. People who have always been at risk of isolation (seniors and those with medical conditions) are even more vulnerable now. But a playful dog or mischievous cat can provide physical and mental activity for otherwise sedentary folks.
Older Americans often take pride in the generations that follow in their footsteps. Most have children, many have grandchildren, and some have great grandchildren. So, it’s normal for seniors to feel a loss of purpose when living alone later in life.
Pets can help give new purpose to older folks, if even subconsciously. While caring for a dog or cat is certainly not the same as child rearing, animals do require daily attention and help to establish schedules. And studies even show pet owners tend to live longer, happier lives!
Many dog owners swear their pets pick up on people’s emotions, anxiety, and general state of being. In fact, dogs are often known to lie down next to sick people or those who seem in despair. While it’s hard to accurately gauge the extent to which dogs and cats understand peoples’ state of mind, the consensus is pets do help owners manage stress. In fact, some studies have even shown people can lower their blood pressure simply by petting a dog.
Times change, and pet ownership is increasingly becoming a social activity. Many restaurants and coffee shops allow customers to sit with their dogs, and some people like to meet up for doggie “play dates.” A lonely senior may find that her dog or cat leads to new friendships with other, like-minded folks.
As discussed, dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years. And some researchers speculate humans were first motivated to make friends with canines due to their value as “watch dogs.” Indeed, these special creatures have keen hearing and scent, which alerts them to dangers far in advance.
Many older people and folks with health conditions feel especially vulnerable to burglary and nefarious actors. But a faithful dog can help ward off would-be intruders while also providing an early alarm, allowing owners to call 911. Pets are also known to alert people to fires and other environmental hazards.
As we celebrate “Love Your Pet” day and discuss the many benefits of dog and cat ownership, it’s important to also recognize inherent dangers. Pets, and particularly dogs, can also pose hazards to people with unsteady gait and limited mobility. Over the years, many seniors have wound up in emergency rooms due to hyperactive puppies.
Older folks and vulnerable populations can mitigate risks of pet ownership by selecting appropriate companions. Puppies are typically not well-suited for folks at risk of suffering falls. And large-breed dogs should probably be avoided for those living in small spaces. Finally, some pets require more attention than others. So, people with physical limitations should shy away from those animals deemed “high maintenance.”
All Things Considered
People generally view their relationships with pets as one of “giving” rather than “receiving.” And most are happy to oblige. But more and more evidence suggests the benefits of human-pet partnerships are reciprocal. And while folks of all ages can reap the rewards of pet ownership, dogs and cats can especially improve quality of life for seniors and those with health conditions!
If you’re concerned about the well-being of a senior or vulnerable person, you should also consider a personal emergency response solution (PERS), such as LifeFone. LifeFone technology provides an affordable “virtual safety net,” complete with alerts for falls, medical emergencies, and environmental hazards!