Man’s best friend. Cuddly. Pure joy. Furry friend. Unconditional love.
These are all words that describe pets (primarily cats and dogs, as it’s difficult to imagine a goldfish being very cuddly). Owning a pet has many benefits despite your age; however, studies have shown that there are additional benefits for seniors.
From helping to prevent loneliness, decreasing stress and anxiety, and even lowering blood pressure, pets can have a positive impact on our overall health as we age. For all these reasons and more, many retirees choose not to relocate to independent or assisted living facilities because they cannot bear to part with their pets.
April 11 is National Pet Day, a day set aside to celebrate the wonderful benefits of pets and the people who help care for them. Providing home care services sometimes means more than just helping our clients—many of our caregivers are also pet lovers and offer assistance so seniors can age in place with their beloved furry friends.
Pets Can Lower Stress
A 2002 study on the connection between cardiovascular health and pets found that “people with pets had significantly lower heart rate and blood pressure levels,” especially when their furry friends were around. The study concluded, “People perceive pets as important, supportive parts of their lives, and significant cardiovascular and behavioral benefits are associated with those perceptions.”
A great real-life example of this was witnessed by caregivers with Right at Home, North Shore Long Island when they were caring for Regina, who had just returned home after a long stay in the hospital. She was excited to return home to her beloved dog Elsie, a 13-year-old dachshund. On days that were difficult for Regina, Elsie would lift her spirits and make her feel better. Caregivers noted that the “unconditional love Elsie shared with our client helped her soon start to show signs of getting better.”
Pets Can Boost Your Mood
Barbara, a client of Right at Home of Lower Manhattan, has a beagle named Charley. Although Barbara can no longer keep up with Charley, she enjoys watching her caregiver, Alicia, run around with Charley when he is off his leash. Although Alicia walks him and plays with him, Barbara still feeds him and snuggles with him because it makes her happy.
Studies have shown that there are strong emotional benefits to owning a pet. Research published by a team of psychologists at both Miami University and St. Louis University found that “belongingness is considered a central need for people. If pets are ‘psychologically close’ to their owner, they may provide well-being benefits for the owner just like any other person.” So, it’s no surprise that Barbara still wants to be around Charley as much as possible, even though she’s physically restricted by certain activities.
Pets Can Ease Your Pain
A client of Right at Home in Round Rock, Texas, was recently diagnosed with arthritis and diabetes. Struggling to care for herself, the client was worried that she would have to put down her 14-year-old cat, Sam, because of her inability to care for him. Three different caregivers came to the rescue, volunteering to take turns making sure that Sam is eating regularly, receiving his medication, and picking up after him since he is now incontinent. The client is grateful that she’s been able to keep her cat and is relieved that she has been able to rely on Sam’s companionship after her diagnosis.
Dr. Marty Becker, doctor of veterinary medicine and veterinary consultant for “Good Morning America,” in a Women’s Day article on the benefits of owning a pet, said that pets can aid those who are dealing with chronic pain, like arthritis. “Just like Valium, it reduces anxiety,” said Dr. Becker. “The less anxiety, the less pain.” Simply put: pets are the best medicine.
Hilary Young is a writer dedicated to helping older Americans live healthier, more fulfilling lives. She currently blogs for HuffPost50, Fifty Is The New Fifty and Medical Guardian. You can find her on Twitter as @hyoungcreative.