Wellness Boosting Benefits of Pets for Seniors

There are several ways in which the lives of seniors can be enriched. One way seniors’ overall wellness or well-being can be boosted or enhanced is through having pets in their lives. In this article, we discuss some of the wellness boosting benefits of pets for seniors. We discuss how companion animals can make life all the better for seniors.

Research Studies and the Benefits of Pets in the Life of Seniors

Several research studies have taken place that underscores the benefits for seniors living with pets. Examples of what these research studies have revealed include the following:

  • Seniors who own pets are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
  • Seniors with pets have lower blood pressure than those without pets in stressful situations. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.
  • Playing with a dog, cat, or other pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine. This helps a person to feel calm and relaxed.
  • Seniors who own pets have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
  • Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.
  • Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.

Pets and the Need for Human Touch

Scientists and researchers have come to understand that one of the reasons for the therapeutic benefits of pet ownership is that pets fulfill the basic human need for touch. Seniors have these needs, as do people in all age cohorts.

Research studies reveal that even hardened criminals in prison show long-term changes in their behavior after interacting with pets. For many of these prisoners, their contact with pets represents these people experiencing mutual affection for the first time.

Stroking, hugging, or touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe a person when stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness. As an aside, most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise. This reality can also substantially boost a person’s mood and ease depression, including for a senior.

Pets and Assist Seniors in Making Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Pets can assist a senior in making healthy lifestyle changes. There are several ways in which a senior can make healthy lifestyle changes through pet ownership. These include:

  • Increasing exercise. Taking a dog for a walk is a fun and rewarding way to fit healthy daily exercise into a senior’s schedule. Studies have shown that dog owners are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements.
  • Providing companionship. Companionship can help prevent illness and even add years to the life of a senior. Pet ownership also reduces isolation and loneliness that can otherwise trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for an animal can help make a senior feel needed and wanted and remove the focus from a senior’s problems, especially if an elder man or woman lives alone. Most dog and cat owners talk to their pets. Some seniors even use them to work through their troubles. In the grand scheme, nothing beats loneliness like coming home to a wagging tail or purring cat.
  • Helping seniors meet new people. Pets can be what experts call a great social lubricant for their owners. Pets can help seniors start and maintain new friendships. Dog owners frequently stop and talk to each other on walks, hikes, or in a dog park. Pet owners also meet new people in pet stores, clubs, and training classes.
  • Reducing anxiety. The companionship of an animal can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence for people anxious about going out into the world. Because pets tend to live in the moment, they don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. Pets can help a senior live his or her life at the moment.
  • Adding structure and routine to your day. Many pets, especially dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. Having a consistent routine keeps an animal balanced and calm. In addition, it can work for senior pet owners as well. No matter a senior’s mood, caring for another living being can work to keep a person in a more positive mindset.
  • Providing sensory stress relief. As discussed, touch and movement are healthy ways to manage stress quickly. Stroking a dog, cat, or other animals can lower blood pressure and help you quickly feel calmer and less stressed.

Seniors, Pet Ownership, and Dementia

 As part of the disease, some Alzheimer’s patients may exhibit various behavioral problems. Many of these are related to an inability to deal with stress. Research studies have revealed that pet ownership can be beneficial to seniors with cognitive issues, including Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Research at the University of California at Davis concluded that Alzheimer’s patients suffer less stress when they own pets. They also have fewer anxious outbursts if a dog or cat is in their homes.
  • Pets can provide a source of positive nonverbal communication. The playful interaction and gentle touch from a well-trained, docile animal can help soothe an Alzheimer’s patient and decrease aggressive behavior. Exposure to bright aquariums or fish tanks can be helpful in this regard.
  • In many cases, a patient’s problem behavior is a reaction to the stressed response of the primary caretaker. Pets can help ease this type of stress as well. Cats or caged animals may be more suitable than dogs, which generally require more care and can add to the burden of someone already looking after an Alzheimer’s patient.

In the final analysis, there are many benefits to owning pets for seniors. We have discussed many of them here. In the grand scheme of things, having a companion animal in the life of a senior can truly make that older individual’s life all the better.