If you’ve ever owned a dog or a cat, you understand how much joy they bring to daily life. But for seniors, these companion animals can do so much more.
Loneliness is a growing problem among American seniors. According to the most recent census figures, 28% of Americans over the age of 65 lived alone. As mobility declines with age, social isolation increases, which brings a host of negative health effects, including:
- Increased mortality risk.
- High blood pressure.
- Increased risk of dementia.
- Major risk factor for depression.
In addition, seniors are at risk for psychological distress brought on by chronic disease, bereavement, or a drop in socioeconomic status. This is where our furry friends come in.
Companion animals can help alleviate the loneliness and depression that often accompanies aging. Pets give many seniors a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And caring for their basic needs provide important structure throughout the day. Studies have also found that pet-owning seniors are healthier than non pet-owners.
A 2013 American Heart Association scientific statement published in the journal Circulation found that “pet owners had significantly lower systolic blood pressures than non pet owners despite similar body mass index (BMI) and socioeconomic profiles.” Additionally, male dog owners had significantly lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels than non owners of dogs.
Although the reason for this health benefit is unknown, it’s believed to be associated with an increase in physical activity. In the same statement, the American Heart association demonstrated how “studies show that dog owners engage in more physical activity and walking and are more likely to achieve the recommended level of physical activity than non owners of dogs.”
Increased Physical Activity
A 2016 study published in The Gerontologist affirmed the link between dog ownership and increased physical activity. It found that “dog ownership was associated with lower body mass index, fewer activities of daily living limitations, fewer doctor visits, and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise.”
As it turns out, these benefits come from daily dog-walking. The study found that “those [seniors] who do walk their dogs were not only more likely to meet physical activity recommendations, but also to walk significantly faster.”
A Word of Caution
It’s hard to argue with these results. Companion pets can alleviate loneliness and depression symptoms, lead to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and promote increases in physical activity. So, every seniors should go out and adopt their own pet immediately, right? Not so fast.
Senior pet ownership can also come with a few unique challenges. Seniors with breathing issues could be more susceptible to the potential allergens that come with pets. Dogs, cats, and other companion animals also could increase the risk of falls for seniors with compromised mobility or balance issues. And, pet-ownership could complicate a move into assisted living because many facilities don’t allow companion animals to live with patients.
However, if those risks can be mitigated or planned for, the benefits of pet ownership for seniors is clear.
About Generations Home Care
If your older parents lives in Arizona, Generations Home Care can help provide the quality in-home care they need to live fuller, healthier, independent lives. We offer levels of care ranging from companionship, to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living. We take a holistic approach and emphasize a consistent, client-centered plan of care.
Our Specialty Services Include:
- Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
- Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
- Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
- Veteran’s connection to care program.
- Live-in services and couples care.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.