The health benefits that pets bring to humans has been widely researched. Scientific studies show that spending time with pets can produce significant physical and emotional responses across all age groups. And this is especially true for older people living independently.
The value an animal can bring to an older person’s life can’t be underestimated. It’s actually pretty amazing when you stop and think how the simple act of caring for a pet can produce such powerfully positive reactions in our aging loved ones.
Here are just 4 key benefits pets can offer seniors.
Pets help seniors stay active
All pets require regular attention, from feeding and watering, to petting or playing, and grooming and walking. These actions all encourage some form of physical activity from their owner. Even the smaller actions involved in caring for a pet are beneficial. Brushing a cat or throwing a ball to a dog can encourage regular movement and help keep fingers and hands flexible.
Often, pet owners increase their activity levels in response their pet’s needs. One study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that dog owners walk an average of 2.2 hours more per week than non-dog owners on. There’s nothing quite as persuasive as a pleading dog, with an unyielding expectation of their daily walk around the block!
This increase in regular, age-appropriate physical activity delivers significant benefits to cardiovascular health and also helps seniors maintain a healthy weight.
Pets offer companionship
The feeling of being truly needed by another living thing is incredibly important to us as humans, and this is exactly what pets offer. Knowing that an animal is dependent on them for love and care can help older Australians feel appreciated and validated. The genuine affection and loyal companionship they offer can also alleviate depression or loneliness.
In addition, pets provide the healing power of touch to older people, who perhaps aren’t getting enough physical contact. Petting a dog or a cat is a calming and enjoyable sensation that can help fill a void that some ageing people experience, especially following the loss of a spouse.
Pets can help increase social connectedness
As people age, changes in their health and mobility can see them reducing the number and frequency of social outings and interactions. This can easily lead to feelings of social isolation and even depression.
Owning a pet is a great way to encourage older people to maintain or increase their social network. It’s easier to commit to a regular walk around the local area when you have an eager dog in tow, and this offers great opportunities to meet and get to know other pet owners in the same vicinity.
Pets can boost mood
The mood-boosting benefits of pets have been documented in numerous scientific studies. It has been found that just 15 minutes bonding with an animal is proven to lower the ‘fight or flight’ hormone, cortisole, while at the same time increasing the ‘feel-good’ hormone, serotonin. This results in reduced stress levels and lower blood pressure.
Dogs especially seem to have a sixth sense for knowing when people are sad, agitated or frightened. As well as understanding voice commands, they are well-attuned at reading and interpreting our tone of voice, body language and emotional state. The comfort a dog can offer an older person in a stressful or anxious moment is priceless.