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health benefits of pets

Health Benefits of Pets for Seniors

Many family caregivers know that the seniors they care for can sometimes experience loneliness and depression, which can cause long-term physical health issues. But did you know that therapy for this sense of isolation might just be found at the nearest animal shelter or pet store?

Americans love their pets! Recent surveys show that two out of every three American homes have a pet, and that number has risen 20% over the past 30 years.

Medical studies prove that the health benefits of pets for seniors and the outpouring of affection for our furry friends are real and lasting. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Improvement in mental health: A 2020 study by the Cleveland Clinic reports that pets elevate moods, decrease depression and slow the impact of dementia in seniors because they provide companionship, a source of entertainment and a sense of purpose. Socialization with a pet also lowers stress hormones and increases stabilizing hormones like serotonin.
  • Increase in heart health: Because pets require both physical and emotional care, older adults who own a pet tend to be more active. This results in a reduction in cardiovascular disease.
  • Better quality of life: When seniors have an animal to keep healthy, they tend to keep themselves healthier in order to care for their pets. Reports have shown that seniors with pets require fewer doctors visits, have a lower body mass and voluntarily exercise more often. Pets can also improve a senior’s outlook on life.
  • A longer lifespan: According to a report from the American Heart Association, people who own dogs live 24% longer than those who do not. As mentioned above, owning a dog encourages more physical activity, which can decrease disease and illness. But the study also suggests that simply petting a dog or cat can reduce stress and improve blood pressure.
  • Pets ease the pain: A 2012 study in Pain Magazine found that pets provide a reduction in pain and emotional distress for chronic pain patients. The study also noted that dogs significantly improve emotional distress and feelings of well-being in family and friends who accompany these patients.
  • Security: While statistics have shown for years that burglars will resist a home with a barking dog, pets also offer seniors a sense of emotional security.

Caregivers should note, however, that picking a pet for their loved one is not without challenges. There are several things to assess before making a decision:

  • How much help your loved one can provide in caring for the pet
  • How much additional work caring for a pet could create for the family caregiver
  • How to match the pet’s temperament with your loved one’s personality
  • The age of the pet and what is best suited for the household
  • Finances. Pet care can be expensive, and many seniors are on fixed budgets.
  • Finally, consider where to adopt or purchase a pet. Municipal and not-for-profit animal rescue shelters top the list. Some of these shelters have free or reduced-price programs for seniors looking to adopt that include the fees for spaying or neutering the pet. Pets can also be purchased at local pet stores, but the cost of spaying or neutering the animal is additional and may not fit your senior’s budget.

While there are many challenges to think about when considering adopting a pet for your loved one, there is overwhelming evidence of the health benefits of pets for seniors.

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