Pets are wonderful on so many levels. They offer unconditional love and companionship, and can be a wonderful source of joy and entertainment. The benefits that pets offer can be even more beneficial as a person ages. If you’re thinking about getting one for your aging loved one, consider that pets can provide companionship, reduce stress, and help with socialization, routines, and positive thinking.
The Benefit of Having a Pet as an Aging Adult
Here are some of the most commonly noted benefits of having a pet:
- Companionship. Pets offer your aging loved one a living thing to spend time with (especially if they live alone). Pets give them something to take care of which pushes them each day. This can combat the feeling of loneliness that often comes with aging. Also, it is easy to get lost in the day-to-day without a routine. Having a pet forces people to have routines such as feeding, walking, and grooming their pet which helps provide a sense of purpose.
- Improved Mental Health. Evidence suggests that spending just 15 minutes with a pet will lower levels of cortisol (the “fight or flight” hormone) and increase serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone) (source). Further research supports the use of pets to treat anxiety and depression. The bond formed between humans and pets helps to stimulate the brain and create a sensory activity when petting, walking, and playing with pets (source). In addition, those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (and Dementia) may have difficulty communicating but there is a unique bond formed with a pet that doesn’t require typical forms of communication. This is why pets are often suggested as a way to help treat those with memory disorders (source).
- Opportunities for Exercise. Through exercise (i.e. walking or playing with a pet) an aging loved one’s stress and blood pressure can be reduced. This has many tangible benefits for their health that help with flexibility, being active, and even in a happier (more positive) mood, as a result of endorphins released from exercise. This will improve cardiovascular health and can reduce overall pain. Having a reason to get outdoors and move around can also have a positive impact on mental health.
- Opportunities for Socialization. Walking your dog, talking with others about your pet, going to the pet store and other activities will engage your aging loved one with others. Going out to the dog park is a great way to get outdoors and meet others. This social activity will help your aging loved one make new friends and embrace new (or even old) interests.
- Protection: Safety and security come in many forms. Having a pet can offer you some comfort knowing that your aging parent can be protected from intruders and helped in an emergency. Pets can also be uniquely trained to help with certain medical conditions (such as low blood sugar and seizures). If your loved one lives alone, a pet can certainly provide a sense of ease.
Looking after a pet can increase an older adult’s self-esteem and self-confidence, which helps them to feel responsible for something and therefore, more useful. The list above highlights just a few of the many benefits pets can have. Make sure to consider your loved one’s health before getting them a pet. If they need some help or adjustment, you can always keep the pet with you and bring it over regularly – which still has its benefits. If you decide to get a pet, make sure it is the right fit and that you have considered all the requirements (cost, vet visits, etc.). Talk with others who have pets to get their perspective. In the end, pets are great companions and can bring a lot of joy to their owner’s lives.