Benefits of Pets for the Elderly

There are many ways that pets can enrich the lives of their owners. The benefits to our physical and mental health are sometimes overlooked though. A popular trend in senior health news, in particular, is that pets can greatly improve senior health, sometimes being the determining factor in how long a senior can stay independent in their own homes.

Senior Health Benefits

Pets have been shown to have the following effects on senior health:

  • Stress reduction
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Exercise, keeping the elderly from infirmity
  • Helping owner fight loneliness, reducing depression
  • Pets give owners something to focus on
  • Allows the owner to feel truly useful, taking care of another living thing

Affecting senior health, studies found that heart attack survivors with pets would ultimately live longer than their pet-less counterparts. Petting their pets lowered these patients’ blood pressure, and increased their oxytocin levels (oxytocin is a feel-good chemical in your brain).

Pets for Senior Health

There have been many studies on the benefits of pets in the lives of seniors, dating back to the early 1980’s. One such study, called the HOME Project, didn’t start out looking for information on how pets could benefit senior health, only to help make changes in elder law, making it possible to have seniors stay in their own homes.

HOME’s study wanted to affect changes in elder law, to create a plan of action that would help them to provide appropriate services to older adults in California. Their findings included the fact that an overwhelming difference was seen in the lives of elderly people that had pets.

Accessible health care, in-home care, and appropriate transportation are all high on the list of supports that elder law must cover. Still, we shouldn’t continue to ignore the evidence that elder health is greatly affected by the presence of a living animal companion.

Estate Planning

If the pet outlives the Senior who will inherit that animal, will that person have the temperament, lifestyle, and financial resources to care for the animal when the Senior is gone.   The Senior can consider leaving a financial stipend to the person for caring for the animal.

Considerations to Make When Choosing a Senior’s Pet

When choosing a pet, there are special considerations that should go into the decision-making process, regardless of the owner’s age. A few of the considerations that are especially important in the case of choosing a pet for a senior include:

  • The pet’s age—too young, and they may be difficult for a senior to house train
  • More active seniors would benefit from dogs or high energy cats
  • Seniors that are disabled may benefit more from a cat that is more self-reliant
  • Is the senior very set in their ways? Pets are a big change
  • The pet’s temperament must match the owner’s lifestyle
  • If finances are a concern, even a healthy animal will generate veterinarian costs which can add to the Senior’s budget
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