People across the world have a deep connection with their pets, dating back thousands of years to the domestication of dogs. As societies evolved, so did the roles of pets in people’s lives. In modern times, pets have become invaluable companions, including for seniors and vulnerable populations, offering companionship, engagement, purpose, stress management, safety, and a sense of community. However, pet ownership comes with responsibilities and considerations, especially for aging individuals.
When seniors adopt pets, measures must be put into place for the care of the pets when your aging loved ones can no longer properly take care of them. That is a conversation that needs to be held up front, before the pet comes into the home. You also need to determine what type of pet is best for your parents. Cats require less care than a dog, but a dog will help assure your parents are up and mobile. Taking the dog for a walk is an ideal way to stay agile and even involved in the community and that can stave off loneliness.
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.
Interacting with pets, especially dogs and cats, can be mentally and physically stimulating for seniors. Studies have shown that Alzheimer’s patients and shy individuals respond well to interactions with pets, improving their overall well-being. Additionally, during times of social isolation, pets play a vital role in providing much-needed activity and engagement for seniors.
As seniors transition into a later stage of life, they may experience lonliness and a loss of purpose. Owning a pet can help fill that void by providing a daily routine and care responsibilities. Caring for a pet, while not the same as child-rearing, gives older individuals a renewed sense of purpose, which contributes to their overall happiness and longevity.
Pets, especially dogs, are known for their ability to sense their owner’s emotions and offer comfort in times of distress. 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 that pets do help owners manage stress. In fact, some studies have even shown people can lower their blood pressure simply by petting a dog. For seniors dealing with various stressors, pets can be a valuable source of emotional support.
Dogs, originally domesticated for their protective qualities, continue to be valuable companions for seniors concerned about their safety. Some researchers have speculated that 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 other dangers. But a faithful dog can help ward off would-be intruders while also providing an early alarm, allowing owners to press their medical alert button or call 911. Pets are also known to alert people to fires and other environmental hazards.
Pet ownership has evolved into a social activity, enabling seniors to form new friendships and connections with like-minded individuals. Activities like doggie “play dates” and pet-friendly outings to restaurants and coffee shops provide opportunities for socializing and combatting isolation.
Studies have also shown that owning a pet can be physically and mentally beneficial for people of all ages.
- In the case of older adults, fifteen minutes of bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain. It helps to lower the levels of cortisol, and increase the production of serotonin. The result is a reduction in heart rate, blood pressure and stress level.
- It’s been shown that the mere act of petting an animal can help lower blood pressure. It’s also been shown that caring for a pet can not only lower your blood pressure, but improve cholesterol levels and provide better heart health.
- While having a pet may not lead to weight loss, it may help with weight control, especially if they have a dog. Dogs require physical activity and regular walks and that means your loved one will be physically active as well.
- According to Research done at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction, seniors that owned a pet also exhibited higher levels of hormones that promoted positive and upbeat emotions like joy and relaxation.
All Things Considered:
While pet ownership has numerous benefits, it also comes with certain risks, especially for seniors with physical limitations. Proper consideration should be given to selecting an appropriate pet based on the individual’s lifestyle and abilities. Older adults should be cautious about adopting high-maintenance pets or large-breed dogs that may not suit their living arrangements or energy levels.
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. With careful planning and consideration, pets can enrich the lives of seniors, providing comfort, joy, and lasting memories throughout their aging journey.
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