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Lifestyle ... Companionship


How Pets Help Seniors Live Happier Lives

by Paula Camposano Robinson, RN - Sanitasole

One of the best prescriptions for good senior health is to have the senior citizen adopt a cat or dog as a pet. Provided that the senior family member or friend is physically and emotionally capable of providing care for one or more pets, research has proven that pets not only have a positive impact on a senior’s longevity but also affects their physical as well as emotional health in a very positive manner. Actress Betty White, a long-time animal rights advocate and pet owner, is a shining example of a senior whose animal companions keep her physically and emotionally active.

Studies have shown that individuals with a variety of senior health issues benefit from having ownership of a pet, usually a cat or a dog which can give and receive affection. Seniors with memory problems or slight depression are often more alert and engaged when caring for a companion animal. Just the act of stroking or petting a dog or cat’s fur has proven to lower an individual’s blood pressure. Heart attack victims who return to a home with a pet recover more quickly than others.

The care of pets requires some regularity of action from their owners and it is this physical activity as well as regular schedule that greatly benefits the health of senior pet owners. A senior who has a hungry dog or cat nudging them awake to be fed or played with isn’t likely to sleep the day away or stay in bed feeling listless or depressed. A pet can provide a senior with a sense of daily purpose, because the animal must be fed several times throughout the day, brushed or groomed on a daily basis as well as taken for a walk in the case of dogs. Any physical activity related to pet ownership helps to extend a senior’s longevity because it helps give them a reason to get out of bed, or get up off the couch or get away from the television set and get moving. Even the simple act of grooming a pet can increase a senior’s blood circulation. Throwing a ball for a dog to retrieve or rolling a ball filled with catnip toward a cat helps to keep the fingers flexible.

There is another very valuable benefit to any senior citizen who shares his home with a pet companion. Studies have proven that owning a pet provides important companionship to seniors who would otherwise feel alone and disconnected from society. Seniors who have no nearby friends or relatives to communicate with on a regular basis or neighbors to interact with daily can interact instead with their dog or cat, providing some relief from the sense of isolation that they usually experience.

Although caring for a pet is not an option when a senior citizen is in a nursing home, scheduled visits by dogs trained to provide therapy, have had a noticeably positive effect on the nursing home resident’s mental outlook, as well as providing the same physical benefits such as lowered blood pressure when interacting with the animal. The unconditional love provided by therapy dogs is a much welcome bright spot in the day of anyone confined to a hospital bed or with limited mobility living in a nursing home day in and day out.

Many senior citizens whose health enables them to care for a loving cat or dog in their home or apartment feel that their companion animals serve as a kind of daily emotional tonic that has only positive benefits for both their physical as well as mental well-being.


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