The wisdom and experience of senior citizens is often overlooked or undervalued, and this can lead to isolation, depression and loneliness, especially for seniors living alone. There have been many studies about the benefits of pet ownership, including reduced risk of heart disease and improved mental health. Here are some other ways the elderly may benefit from regular pet interaction.
1. Companionship - Dogs in particular, offer seniors unconditional love and companionship. For people who’ve lost their spouse, or whose grown children have moved away, a dog can be a great source of friendship and companionship. Cats, while more aloof, can also make great companions, and are easier to care for.
2. Mental and medical conditions- Pets have been proven to reduce high blood pressure, relieve anxiety and promote longer lives. Since pets are a responsibility, a pet is often the only reason an older adult feels he or she has to get up in the morning.
3. Pets can reduce stress and agitation among those afflicted with dementia and Alzheimer's. Pets have also proven to help stimulate patients' appetites, as loss of appetite is a common symptom of these conditions.
4. Fitness - Walking or playing with a dog is a great source of exercise. Petting a dog can help work out arthritic hands and arms.
5. Mood booster - Being with a pet can help reduce cortisol (a stress hormone), and help boost levels of the serotonin (the happy hormone.) Dogs seem to have an instinct for when sad or frightened people need to be comforted. For seniors facing fears of the future or surgery, a pup can help someone stay in the moment.
6. Protection - Elderly people are a vulnerable target for crime like burglary. A dog may help repel potential home invasions. Even if the dog isn’t big, their barking can deter a robber.
Those thinking of adding a pet to their family should consider contacting The Pets for the Elderly Foundation, which helps pay the fees to participating animal shelters throughout the United States for senior citizens (age 60 and over) who adopt a companion dog or cat from a participating shelter - including pre-adoption veterinary exams and spay/neuter, if part of the adoption fee.