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How Pets Help The Elderly: Fostering That Loving, Therapeutic Bond

December 28, 2009
The strong bond between people and their pets and the comfort that pets provide their owners, including the elderly, are explored in two articles by Froma Walsh, PhD in the December 2009 issue of the journal Family Process. Dr. Walsh is the Mose and Sylvia Firestone Professor Emerita in the School of Social Service Administration and Department of Psychiatry, University of Chicago, Co-Director of the Chicago Center for Family Health and a leading expert on family resilience in response to adversity, contemporary family challenges and the role of spiritual resources. Her articles, Human-Animals Bonds I and II, review a vast amount of research and detail the many therapeutic benefits of having a pet. Dr. Froma points out that “for elderly people, companion animals enhance the quality of life, bringing value, meaning and worth. Seniors with pets have fewer minor health problems, fewer doctor visits and lower health care costs. Pets promote relaxation, help seniors adhere to a daily schedule and enhance their mobility and well-being.” For people experiencing dementia, pets “decrease agitation and increase socialization. In nursing homes and dementia units, pets improve residents’ mood, decrease depressive symptoms and improve their social interaction and quality of life. Residents become more engaged in their environment when animals are living with them. Even the installation of a large ?sh tank in the dining room of dementia units increased calm, socializing and healthier eating.” Dr. Froma also writes about the need to acknowledge the pain of the loss of a pet: “The loss of a companion animal can be profound when the bond has been important. As with other signi?cant losses, grief can be intense and the mourning process may take time.” Though losing a pet can be difficult for a senior, the advantages of having a four-footed companion can’t be underestimated.