Can a Furry Friend Be Exactly What the Doctor Ordered?
Pets can enhance seniors’ lives, but did you know that they can also improve their overall health.
When children are young, families often introduce a pet into their home to help teach them about responsibility, compassion-ship and of course love. But when our loved ones grow older, a pet can help them so much more.
A furry friend can not only can be the best of companions, but they provide a comfort system that can often rekindle an aging person’s passion for life. It gives the pet owner a purpose. They know that they are responsible for the feeding and caring of a pet, which makes them feel useful, which is a common complaint among aging American’s who no longer work or look after others.
According to a study by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).18 percent of seniors live alone, while 43 percent report feeling lonely on a regular basis; a furry friend can alleviate that feeling of isolation.
Dogs, whether big or small, can also provide social benefits by getting their owners out of the house for a walk. Besides the exercise, which is an added bonus, the fresh air, social interaction and engagement with other people gives many Senior’s a feeling of purpose and continue to reduce depression, which often stems from the feelings of loneliness.
A cat might be a better option if mobility is an issue. Even sitting on a couch, petting an animal can lower stress levels and boost a person’s mood by having a companion. The best part is how personable animals can be. They mirror your feelings; when you are happy, they are happy. When you get excited they get excited. And when you are feeling blue, they are always there to let you know you are loved.
A study from “Pets Are Wonderful Support” found, “recently widowed women who owned pets experienced significantly fewer symptoms of physical and psychological disease and reported lower medication use than widows who did not own pets.”
It’s easy to see how the love of a furry friend can provide a comfort level whereby enhancing the mental health of the elderly by producing a chemical reaction in the brain that helps to lower levels of the stress-inducing hormone, cortisol, and increase the production of the feel-good hormone, serotonin.
But companion animals also contribute to the physical health of their owners by reducing blood pressure and stress levels which can actually help lower cholesterol, lower triglycerides and help protect against heart conditions.
One study by OneGrenPlanet.org found that having a companion animal contributed to a higher survival rate in patients who suffered from a heart attack. The mortality rate among people with pets was one-third that of patients without animal companionship. According to this study, “approximately one million people die of heart disease each year. Animals can help save over 33,000 people from dying of heart disease.”
Furthermore, in a study of 100 Medicare patients, it showed that the owners of animals, visited their doctors 21% less often than those who don’t own pets and they use less medication animals and recover faster from surgery and illness.
Thankfully, more and more Senior Care Centers and Senior Residents have begun to understand the benefits of a companion pet and allow them into their facilities. Because of all the wonderful research of the benefits of having a pet, many rehabilitations and even hospitals allow service dogs in to visit, because of the huge smile they bring to everyone’s face.
It is clear that a furry friend can be incredibly beneficial and help provide the much needed contact we all need, at any stage of life. But the emotional and physical benefits of a senior owning a pet, sounds to me, like it is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Randi Farina is currently working as Director of Business Development for Platinum Select Nursing, a private home health care agency that provides Certified Nursing Assistants and Home Health aides to Seniors in Palm Beach County, Fl so they can remain as independent as possible and “age at home.”