Did you know that owning a pet gets even better with age? Reports on the health benefits of caring for a dog, cat or other pets suggest that aging adults in particular can benefit from an animal companion. A new poll shows that having a furry friend actually helps older adults cope with their own mental and physical health. The National Poll on Healthy Aging surveyed 2,051 adults aged 50 to 80 and found that 55 percent of them have a pet.
Additional statistics showed that:
- 88% said that having pets helps them enjoy life
- 86% said that pets make them feel loved
- 73% said pets provide them with a sense of purpose
- 79% said their pets reduced their stress levels
- 60% said pets help them cope with their physical and emotional health
- 34% said pets help take their mind off their pain
- 52% of pet owners said they got a pet specifically for companionship
These interesting figures suggest that pet ownership has significant benefits for older adults’ mental, physical and emotional health. Relationships with pets are of course less complicated than those with humans, and they often prove to be a source of great enjoyment. They also provide older adults with a sense of being needed and loved.
Pet ownership has long been linked with better health. The American Heart Association has linked dog ownership in particular with greater longevity and a reduced risk for heart disease, depression and encourages an active lifestyle.
Reasons Seniors Should Adopt a Pet
There are multiple reasons for getting a pet. From companionship to security, pets can provide seniors with a better quality of life and improve aging in place.
1. Pets Ease the Pain
Two in five seniors who live alone and have poor health reported that their pets help take their mind off the pain. A 2012 study in Pain Magazine found that therapy dogs provided “significant reduction in pain and emotional distress for chronic pain patients”. The Research according to the science journal revealed that pet owners who look into a dog’s eyes for at least five minutes get a boost of the feel-good hormone oxytocin in the brain. This is because making and locking eye contact with dogs (or any other animal for that matter) helps you to emotionally develop a human bond.
2. Pets Help Seniors Stick To a Routine
Seniors said that caring for their critters helped them keep a routine, and provided them with a sense of purpose. Post retirement, one may be vulnerable to the risk of depression given the sudden lack of purpose in life. And without anything meaningful to do, a person’s cognitive abilities can take a major hit. Staying on top of feeding, walking, grooming and playing with a pet can help fill up those empty hours and keep the mind sharp.
3. Pets Make People More Social
Pets foster social connection. Loneliness can be dangerous; isolation raises the risk of heart disease by 29% and stroke by 32%. An analysis of 70 studies featuring 3.4 million people found that people suffering from social isolation had a 30% greater risk of dying prematurely. But 65% of aging pet owners in the survey claimed that their pets connected them with other people. Pets can enable you to find friends and garner social support!
4. Pets Keep Aging Adults Active
According to statistics, older adults above the age of 65 should get at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise such as brisk walking every week. Pet owners, dog owners in particular said that their pets helped them to be more physically active. Studies also found that the concept of dog walking for older adults was associated with vigorous exercise, as well as lower BMI and fewer doctor visits.
Health Benefits of Investing in a Pet
There are many physical and emotional health benefits of investing in a pet but do not forget animals also require a lot of time, energy and attention. The key is finding the perfect match for you – this could even be an aging dog or cat, which are often house-trained and don’t require as much walking and looking after as puppies and kittens. Domesticated dogs live 10 to 12 years on average, and cats live 10 to 14 years. Other factors like how it would affect your lifestyle and your finances need to be considered before adopting a pet as well.
Research shows that the benefits of owning a pet far outweigh the negatives. Studies also suggest that seniors who enjoy the company of pets but cannot have one should look into volunteering at a local animal shelter, or pet sit for their friends and family. Pets fetch more than just mental health benefits; the companionship that they offer is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress.