As you age, it’s important to have a loyal companion at your side. There’s no better option than a pet. Here are the benefits of pets for the elderly.
68 percent of Americans own a pet. Dogs rank as the most popular pet, with cats trailing just behind. The health benefits of owning an animal have long been espoused, and some still might even surprise you. For example, it might seem obvious that pets decrease feelings of loneliness. But having an animal in the household has also been shown to decrease cholesterol levels.
The health benefits of pets for the elderly are no different. In fact, in caring for the aging people in our lives, having a pet can be even more beneficial than it is for others.
The Benefits of Pets for the Elderly
Animals are amazing. But an animal can actually help your aging loved ones in more ways than you would expect. They’ve even been proven to help with seniors experiencing dementia.
Ward off Loneliness
Unsurprisingly, almost every elderly person reports that they speak to their pet. That means that they’re able to vocalize their thoughts instead of bottling them up inside, whether it’s inconsequential small talk or something greater. People also report telling their worries and fear to their pets. The necessity of caring for something can also be a highly rewarding experience that can work wonders in fending off loneliness.
Getting into a Routine
Pets can establish a sense of purpose for seniors who don’t have a huge number of activities to keep them busy or a schedule that they have to stick to. If they don’t need to get out of bed in the morning, but their pet needs to be fed, then that’s a huge motivator. A dog will also need frequent walks, which can help set them up for a routine that will give them meaning. It will also help them exercise and stay healthy.
Live in the Moment
When you’re getting older, it can often be a scary thought about what tomorrow will bring. It’s natural to think about the end of life, or health issues that may be just around the corner.
Of course, animals don’t have to worry about any of these things. Being around animals can actually have this carefree attitude rub off on you if you’re around them frequently. Having a pet can help keep the mind preoccupied, instead of focusing on negative things about the process of aging. They can also encourage a person to get outside and walk their dog, where they will meet new friends who can act as a support system.
Having a pet has a shocking amount of benefits on your health, and that goes for everyone who owns a pet, not just older people.
People who own an animal are much less likely to experience depression. Because they’re stress relievers, they keep you from getting into a state of sadness that can later lead to symptoms of depression.
The ability of animals to make you happier helps prevent the build-up of norepinephrine and cortisol, chemicals that lead to heart disease and cause plaque to stick around in the arteries.
Pets have also been linked to lower cholesterol levels and lower levels of triglyceride. Especially among the elderly, these are things that need to be watched to keep someone healthy and strong.
The combination of these things and the fact that having an animal encourages someone to get up and move work as a two-fold effect on an aging person. Physical activity helps a person to relieve their sadness, and so does owning a pet. Doing both of these things at once works wonders.
Animals are proven stress relievers. People’s blood pressure has been shown to go down when they pet a dog.
People who own dogs also show a decreased amount of cardiovascular reactivity during stress. Both their blood pressure and their heart rate doesn’t increase at as high of a rate, and they stabilize more quickly when experiencing stress. This ability to reduce the reactions to stress is sometimes called the “pet effect.” Having an animal overall can help improve the health of your heart.
How to Find the Right Pet
When finding the perfect pet for yourself or the elderly person in your life, it’s important to ask yourself some questions. Choosing pets for the elderly is no small decision. Keeping in mind if the senior person has been a pet owner previously is a step you need to consider. If not, the learning curve for adopting a pet will be steeper and more preparation for the event will need to take place. If the senior person has any disabilities, a dog can be a great companion. But if the individual has mobility that’s too limited, it’s a possibility that a bird or a cat could be a better fit, because a dog may get restless.
Puppies or kittens aren’t always a great fit for a new senior pet owner, because they can be too high energy or aggressive. An older dog can fit well for a companion, because they don’t require as much training and have mellowed out to be a more suitable companion.
The finances of the elderly person may also need to be taken into account. Dog food alone can average anywhere from 800 to 1,000 dollars per year.
Caring for the Elderly
If you have an aging loved one in your life, you know that caring for them isn’t always easy. Maybe you know the benefits of pets for the elderly, but your friend or family member still needs extra help.
There are many options for you to consider. You can research if an assisted living facility is the right fit, where your loved one would benefit from 24-hour assistance. Senior independent living is also an option, if you or your elderly loved one knows how to take care of themselves properly.
Care Builders at Home has a wealth of resources for you if you’re caring for an elderly person. We can help with shopping, mental stimulation, housekeeping, and more specialized services.