If you’re a member of the 90.5 million families in the U.S. with a pet, you don’t have to be told what a difference they can make in your life. What would life be like without that cold nose waking you in the morning, or that soft fur rubbing against your ankles? Having a pet brings with it many benefits, especially a pet for seniors. Today’s modern senior living communities are happy to welcome your pet, because they know just what good “medicine” they can be for an older adult.
Benefits of pet ownership for seniors: a pal and a whole lot more.
According to the Mayo Clinic, pets play a huge role in creating a healthy lifestyle.
- Two of every three American homes include a pet.
- 95% of American pet owners consider their pets to be family members.
- The most popular pet? Freshwater aquarium fish.
- According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are almost 77 million dogs in the U.S. and 58 million cats.
Here are 9 ways pets make our lives better as we age:
1. Pets provide companionship. For some older adults, the world can become smaller with aging. Friends move away and family members are wrapped up in their own schedules. Having a pet is a wonderful way to have a constant friend, a presence, in the home. Even if it’s a one-way conversation, talking with your pet feels reassuring and can soothe your anxiety and fears. It’s unconditional love—something everyone, especially a senior, can always use. A pet for seniors can be part of a solution to loneliness.
2. Pets help prevent depression. According to American Humane, studies show that a pet for seniors helps them overcome loneliness and depression by providing affection, company, entertainment and a sense of responsibility. Instead of sitting still while the hours tick by, seniors with pets tend to get up, talk, and smile much more than when there isn’t a pet around.
3. Pets encourage more exercise. Whether it’s feeding, bathing, walking, cleaning out a fish tank, or picking up chew toys, a pet for seniors means exercise. Walking is just one activity. There’s always all the other tasks that come with owning a pet. Even if it’s as simple as opening a can of food or stroking a purring cat on your lap, having a pet gets you moving, which helps decrease blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels—and reduce weight.
4. Pets help their human pals ward off health issues. Owning a pet can be good for the physical and mental health of people of all ages. Even watching aquarium fish can decrease a person’s heart rate, increase skin temperature, decrease muscle tension.
Aging.com reports that when focusing on benefits of a pet for seniors: “Just 15 minutes of bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone, cortisol, and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. The result: heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop. Over the long term, pet and human interactions can lower cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke.”
5. Pets help people bounce back and heal faster. Aging can bring aches and pains that can be frustrating. Pets have the power to help heal patients experiencing emotional or physical pain. Canadian researchers found that spending just 10 minutes with a therapy dog relieved levels of pain, anxiety, and depression and increased feelings of well-being in patients in the emergency department experiencing pain. Pets can also help distract a person who is dealing with chronic pain and provide a sense of comfort.
6. A pet for seniors can be a source of safety and security. Living alone can cause an older adult to constantly be in a state of unease, feeling vulnerable. Just having a pet around can be a reassuring presence. Having a dog to walk with can also provide added peace of mind for a senior who would rather not walk alone.
7. Pets can help slow cognitive decline. Everyone wants to stay sharper as they age, and a pet for seniors is a great strategy. In fact, one study suggests that long-term pet ownership could be good for your brain. A University of Michigan study found that over a six-year period, cognitive scores decreased at a slower rate in pet owners than non-pet owners around the age of 65. The difference in cognitive decline was even stronger among long-term pet owners.
8. Pets help seniors stay social. Attending a pet show. Going to the vet. Taking your dog for a walk and striking up a conversation with someone new. Talking with others who own the same breed of cat or type of fish you have. Shopping for food or toys. Sharing photos of your four-legged-friend with buddies at lunch. A pet for seniors is a ticket to making new friends almost every day.
9. Pets help provide a purpose and a routine. A familiar routine is beneficial for everyone, especially for a senior who wants a reason to get up every morning with a goal. That goal can be taking care of a pet. It’s a great way to stay physically and mentally active, and it helps preserve a routine that erases chaos or stress and instead offers satisfaction. A pet for seniors is a way of feeling needed and necessary.
A pet for seniors is happiness: a reason to smile.
At Heritage Communities, we are all about whatever brings you joy: creating the senior living experience you want. We believe pets can be a part of that…helping you live better! Many Heritage Communities residents have pets and several of the communities engage services to assist with pet care if residents are away for an extended period.