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How Dogs Can Positively Impact The Elderly

When my Mom turned 60-years-old, I asked her what she wanted for this special birthday. I figured maybe she would want a trip or have all the kids and grandkids fly home. Her answer floored me: a dog.

My Mom and Dad had dogs when they were children, but I was allergic to pets.  It had been 40 years since my parents had a dog, and I was a little afraid whether it would be too overwhelming for them. After all, dogs require a lot of attention, love and training. Would my Dad really want to get up and walk the dog? Would my meticulous Mom be okay if the dog had an accident in the house?

Turns out, it was the best remedy for their empty nest syndrome I could have ever imagined. I went to the local shelter and picked out a dog that was already mature, so they wouldn’t have to go through the rigors of training. I also picked out a small dog – a Maltese – knowing my parents wanted a “lap dog” versus a larger dog.  As Chicago veterinarian Tony Kremer said: “these pets go from the pound to paradise.”

My parents are not alone.  Studies have been conducted citing the benefits of pets to the elderly both for their health and their energy. Here are some of the many advantages a dog can bring to your elderly loved one:

  • Love. With the house empty of kids, my Mom needed someone or something to heap all her love and attention towards and fuss over.  Sure enough, that dog went everywhere with her.  Since we were no longer home to eat her homemade treats, she learned to make the dog organic treats that were actually healthy! My parents loved their dog unconditionally and he loved them unconditionally in return.
  • Loneliness. Because my parents could not keep up the pace they used to, they had more free time on their hands. Too much leisure time can cause many seniors to get lonely and depressed. As my dad battled prostate cancer, that dog was right up on the bed keeping him company and comforting after his grueling treatments.  Dogs seems to “sense” when their owners have the blues.
  • Active. Although my Mom didn’t like “formal exercise”, her and my Dad would go on long walks with the dog. This kept them all mobile and moving, which was great for their physical health. Plus, this gave them a chance to socialize with all their neighbors who had pets and helped them meet new people.
  • Confidence. As my Mom aged, she was always afraid of her “forgetfulness”. As I reminded her, she never, ever forgot to feed and bathe the dog! The dog kept her mentally sharp.
  • Security. If any stranger came into the house, the dog would start barking. He served as a great burglar alarm, which gave my parents a feeling of security.

In fact, studies have shown that pets keep seniors 21% healthier, by using less medicine, visiting their doctor less, lowering their blood pressure, and increasing their mental acuity.

I can tell you this. Although most dog experts say you should let the dog owner pick out the dog himself, my Mom chose the breed and I hit a home run with the temperament.

If your parents are lonely, consider the benefits of having a dog.

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