English novelist George Eliot said, “Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.” Around 65% of American households are well aware of the benefits of having a pet in the home: they’ve already embraced the trend, and in fact are spending around $35 billion dollars a year on their furry companions. Pets certainly bring unconditional love and fun to any household, but they also provide a number of powerful mental and physical health benefits.
These positive effects apply to everyone, but they’re often particularly pronounced in seniors. Whether they’re cheering you up after a bad day, keeping your blood pressure low, or simply fetching your slippers, the benefits of keeping a pet through your senior years can’t be ignored. In a recent study, Senior Planning Services, a tri-state area Medicaid planning company, shared some of the primary benefits of pet ownership for your health.
Individuals who have pets tend to take care of themselves better than those who don’t. They’re more easily able to lose weight, choose healthy foods, and boost vitality. It’s not just that pet owners are more likely to get exercise. Pets improve cardiovascular health, elevate serotonin and dopamine to calm and relax, and lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, which can reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, heart attack patients with dogs are more likely to survive than patients who don’t have dogs.
Overall health is often better with a pet around, too. Pet owners over the age of 65 see their doctors 30% less often than their peers who don’t have pets. They typically experience lower blood pressure. Spending time with your pet can substantially increase the release of endorphins as well as decreasing your stress levels. Pet owners are simply healthier than those who live without a furry companion.
Doctors have known for a long time that individuals with pets are better able to deal with depression, anxiety, and stress. In fact, seniors suffering from any of these conditions may quickly discover that acquiring a pet can substantially increase their quality of life! Pets provide sensory stress relief, from a cuddly dog to a sweet, furry cat. Simply being with the pet can lift the spirits and reduce depression as their presence decreases feelings of isolation, alienation, and loneliness. Pets also provide comfort and promote relaxation, all in one fuzzy package.
Pets often make it easier for their owners to get out and connect with others. They improve the odds of meeting new people and making new friends while providing their own level of companionship. Pet owners are more likely to engage in conversation while they’re out and about. They mitigate social withdrawal, encouraging interaction with other individuals. Owning a pet reduces loneliness and encourages healthy behaviors. Many pet owners also observe a decrease in agitated behaviors, which can significantly improve socialization.
Amazingly, pets improve both the quality and the quantity of conversation with others. Pet owners are able to get out and about with their pets, often engaging in interaction with others while playing with their pets. Positive social interactions—that is, those that involve more than the stereotypical “Get off my lawn!” conversation—also increase for pet owners.
Becoming a Healthier You
Many pet owners find that owning a pet makes it easier for them to develop new interests and engage in other activities. They’re investing in something, taking care of a life that quickly becomes an important member of the family. While a dog can certainly provide an additional layer of protection for seniors who live on their own, it will also encourage playfulness, add structure and routine to the day, and help many seniors find meaning and joy in life. Pet ownership is one of the best ways to invest in life.
Pet ownership has plenty of advantages for both the senior and their new furry friend. These changes in their lives are tangible, positive, and, above all, fun! Simply having a cat to pet and cuddle on their lap or a dog to curl up at their feet can make a world of difference in the life of an elderly individual. Owning a furry companion can make all the difference in those later years, especially if depression is threatening to creep in.
Benny Lamm is a communication specialist and blogger. He enjoys playing the guitar, spending time with family and social networking.