Pets make happier and healthier seniors! While we all love our pets, there are particular health benefits for older pet owners that research has proven.
Pets improve the lives of older individuals in many ways. Here’s how pets can help seniors:
1. Pets have a calming effect. Physiology helps explain why animals are such effective therapists for all of us. Simply petting an animal can decrease the level of the stress hormone cortisol and boost release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, resulting in lowered blood pressure and heart rate and, possibly, in elevated mood.
2. Companionship. The bond between a person and their pet can be so significant. Pets provide companionship to seniors who are at a higher risk for loneliness and social isolation. Having a pet also provides increased opportunities for socialization with other people.
According to the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging: Pet owners said that their pets help them enjoy life (88%), make them feel loved (86%), reduce stress (79%), provide a sense of purpose (73%), and help them stick to a routine (62%). Respondents also reported that their pets connect them with other people (65%), help them be physically active (64% overall and 78% among dog owners), and help them cope with physical and emotional symptoms (60%), including taking their mind off pain (34%). Among those who lived alone and/or reported fair or poor physical health, 72% said pets help them cope with physical or emotional symptoms.
3. Increased opportunities for exercise and getting outdoors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for good health and double that amount for greater health benefits. Brisk walking counts as this moderate-intensity level of activity. Being a dog owner means having to walk your dog regularly. This type of accountability can help seniors keep up regular walking and exercise.
4. Protect from heart disease. The American Heart Association states that pet ownership can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) which is the leading cause of death in the United States. Numerous studies have explored the relationship between pet (primarily dog or cat) ownership and CVD, with many reporting beneficial effects, including increased physical activity, favorable lipid profiles, lower systemic blood pressure, improved autonomic tone, diminished sympathetic responses to stress, and improved survival after an acute coronary syndrome.
Studies have also shown that having a pet results in decreased cholesterol levels and decreased triglyceride levels.
5. Better brain health. Research has proven that being around your pet is excellent for mental and brain health. Just 15 minutes bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone, cortisol, and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. The result: heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop.
6. Better mental health. Pets have a calming effect on everyone and it’s scientifically proven that pets can help those suffering from mental health conditions (such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder).
For those with cognitive decline or memory issues, an animal’s non-verbal communication and constant affection can be soothing.
7. Dog owners are healthier than non-owners. According to Harvard research, dog owners have lower blood pressure and healthier cholesterol levels, and a lower risk of heart disease, than non-owners.
8. Pets bring purpose and meaning to life. Owning a pet and being responsible for taking care of it can help withdrawn seniors find purpose in life again. The unconditional love of an animal brings healing and meaning to seniors in a stage of life that can be lonely.
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