Call it what you will – pet therapy, pet-assisted therapy, or pets caring for elderly owners – the benefits of animal ownership for seniors have been documented and understood for decades. Pets help relieve stress, alleviate boredom and provide devotion and companionship for elders across the country. Loneliness is a contributor to the failing health of many seniors. Ensure the quality of life for your parent by taking every opportunity to expose him or her to resources that will help prevent boredom, depression, and feelings of inadequacy or lack of self worth.
The benefits of pets for the elderly
Cats and dogs are the most common types of pets owned by the elderly, but rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and turtles are also popular choices. Pet ownership can:
- Lower blood pressure
- Relieve stress
- Combat loneliness
- Ease depression
- Encourage activity for seniors
- Offer a greater sense of worth
- Offer security to their owners
There’s nothing so comforting as to be able to hug a pet and be rewarded with a trusting look, a wag of the tail and even a sloppy kiss or two. Back in 1980, Erika Friedmann, PhD, and professor of Health and Nutrition Sciences for Brooklyn College in New York, studied the effect of pets on heart disease patients. Her co-researcher, Aaron Katcher, MD, reported, "The presence of a pet was the strongest social predictor of survival … not just for lonely or depressed people, but everyone – independent of marital status and access to social support from human beings."
Only a few years later, another study was performed that showed the benefits of animal ownership by elderly individuals:
- 95% spent time each day talking to his or her pet
- 82% said that owning a pet made them feel better when they were sad
- 65% said petting or caressing their pets made them feel better
- 57% actually confided fears and worries to their pets
Pets offer the elderly, both those living at home and those in assisted living or long-term care facilities, comfort and companionship.
Experts speak out on pets for the elderly
Pets for the Elderly Foundation gives results from the Baker Medical Research Institute, Australia’s largest cardiac center, on its research page. Studies show that pet ownership:
- Reduced rates of developing heart disease
- Lowered cholesterol levels
- Reduced systolic blood pressure in female owners
The Pet Information Bureau in Washington, D.C., believes that pet ownership is "especially important in increasing interest in life – pets give the elderly something to care for, as well as providing an opportunity for exercise and socialization."
U.S. News & World Report reviewed more than two dozen studies and determined that, "residents exposed to pets consistently smiled more and became measurably more alert than those who did not encounter animals" (U.S. News & World Report, February, 1992).
The ASPCA promotes animal ownership for the elderly as well, due to the fact that "quality time spent with an animal can be used to manage behavior, stimulate memory, encourage muscle groups to work in harmony and much, much more" (Micky Niegro, ASPCA Animal Watch).
No matter what you call it, the benefits of combining the elderly with pets can hardly be denied. Caring for the elderly means offering them every opportunity to care for others, while at the same time caring for themselves.