It’s pretty hard to resist the wide eyes of a kitten or the fluffy head of a dog burrowing under your hand, and having trained animals in the company of your senior has been shown to have many positive effects on a his/her health.
Health Care Benefits
Seniors who either have pets with them or get visits from pets make fewer doctor visits than seniors who don’t. This is especially true for smaller health issues, like nagging colds or minor aches and pains.
- Emotional Stability: Seniors who have pets tend to be less stressed and anxious than those who don’t. That’s likely because animals are non-judgemental “listeners” who let seniors speak their minds freely, and only ask for a pat on the head in return. On the other hand, while they’re great companions, animals do come with their own food and exercise needs, which may cause seniors a bit of stress.
- Lower Blood Pressure and Cholesterol: A study conducted by the University of Buffalo of hypertensive stock brokers found that while ACE inhibitors are effective at treating stress, dogs and cats are more so. Blood pressure, heart rate, and activity of plasma resin (an enzyme that increases in response to stress) all improved more significantly in the group with pets than the one without.
- Longer Life Expectancy: Did you know that having a pet with you at home can add years to your life? In seniors with heart conditions, those with pets end up living longer than those without, and with a better quality of life, too. They also show fewer signs of heart disease than pet-less seniors, while cat-less seniors are up 40% more likely to die of heart disease than their feline-toting counterparts.
- Stressful Situations: When seniors enter into stressful situations, they exhibit the signs of calmness—lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, slower rate of breathing, dryer palms—much more readily if their pet is with them. And when it comes to depression, sharing your feelings with a pet has been shown to be as effective as a therapy session.
- Overall Health: All these factors considered, seniors with pets are simply healthier both mentally and physically overall.
Top Pet Choices
Now that it’s firmly established pets can contribute more than just sloppy kisses and furry handshakes, what are seniors’ top picks when it comes to choosing an animal? Dogs are the most popular choice, as man’s best friend offers comfort, stability, dependability, and trustworthiness. But cats are a popular option as well — their independence and self-reliance make them easy animals to care for.
Other top selections for elder pets include birds, bunnies, hamsters and fish—all small animals that are easy to care for and provide a soothing presence that keeps seniors calm and relaxed.
Finding A Pet
There are a number of organizations, such as The Pets for the Elderly Foundation, which match seniors and animals to maximize the beneficial effects of animals. Also consider contacting your local ASPCA shelter, and specifying that you’re searching on behalf of a senior in need of a companion. Just remember, while your pet will provide you with unconditional love and attention, it also needs those things in return. Before taking in a new animal, you should be sure you can properly care for it.
Pets can be a great way to minimize health concerns for seniors, providing noticeable mental and physical benefits.
Written by Jan Bolder, Lead Content Writer for LivingSenior.com