Pets and the elderly

 In Health

The often-inseparable bond between man and his best friend, Mr. dog, is a truly wonderful thing. Indeed, there are many stories of heroism on the dog’s part should their ‘master’ be faced with an imminent threat. Whether it’s to do with the elements or if there’s potential for bodily harm from an intruder; the stories are seemingly never ending. A toddler saved from a snake bite, many men from drowning, the master suffering a seizure or heart attack, and the list goes on.
Of course, the love between a pet and its owner is not restricted to dogs; with cats, goats, rabbits, ferrets, birds and many others providing their owners with affection leading to an almost inseparable bond. Okay, cats tend to only be in it for the food and themselves…
Personally, I absolutely adore goats. I know, I’m strange! The problem with goats is the environment they require. I believe that if a goat’s environment was an easy fix, there would be many millions more living their lives as household pets. Talk about protective! Having owned goats from tiny kids all the way through to years of adulthood, I understand implicitly how defensive a goat can be of its master. And playful… incredible.
But let’s not dwell on my interests, rather let’s have a look at what a pet can do for an elderly person.
Having witnessed a massive change in a 100-year-old friend after taking possession of a poodle, the results are, in my mind at least, conclusive. The poodle changed everything, and my friend is now a lot happier.
Anecdotal evidence also shows that owning a pet can improve the life of the over 80’s (specifically because, as mentioned earlier, many live alone). There can be noticeable improvements in many areas as explained below.
Physical Benefits
Heart Health – Frequent interaction with a pet may lower blood pressure and cholesterol, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Improved Activity – Walking, grooming or playing with a pet increases the frequency of physical activity and exercise, which in turn has countless health benefits.
Healthy Behaviour – Those who own a pet tend to take better care of themselves. Caring for a pet helps to develop a routine, encouraging owners to eat regularly or complete chores and other tasks.
Social Benefits
Increased Interaction – Walking a dog gets senior owners out of the house and increases their opportunities to socialize with neighbours.
Encourages Conversation – A pet is often a great conversation starter and often provides common ground with others, especially with fellow pet owners.
Stimulates Memory – Visiting with an animal can allow seniors to tap into memories of childhood pets and past experiences.
Involvement in Activities – Studies show that pet owners are less likely to dwell on the past and pursue current activities, leading to social bonds and interaction.
Emotional Benefits
Decreased Loneliness – Pets provide companionship for isolated seniors.
Stress Relief – Being with a pet increases levels of serotonin. It also provides physical contact, which helps to calm anxiety.
Better Self-Esteem – For seniors discouraged by their age, appearance or limited abilities, pets are welcome company, reminding seniors that they are still capable of being loved and needed.
Sense of Purpose – The company of an animal provides a reason to get up in the morning.

Written by Greg Brindley

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