Seniors and Pets

We all know they’re cute and cuddly. And that’s reason enough for most of us to own a dog or cat. But our four-legged friends offer real health benefits, as well, especially for the elderly.

Pets provide a sense of purpose and boost self-esteem, since they need and rely on their owners for virtually every aspect of their care. Seniors benefit from the unconditional love and affection their pets give them, offering camaraderie and helping them realize they are not alone. According to Dr. Leo Bustad, “Pets restore order to their basic lives, provide a more secure grasp of reality, and link their owners to a community of caring, concern, sacrifice, and intense emotional relationships.”

The playful antics of a dog or cat divert attention away from an older person’s focus on themselves, and the aches and pains and depression of aging. Pets are a source of ongoing life, connecting them to youth and energy and love. For elderly patients in nursing homes, animal-assisted therapy has shown to decrease anxiety levels and give people something to look forward to. Even those with Alzheimer’s have fewer outbursts when there is a pet nearby.

Pets encourage seniors to stay active, getting them to do things they might not normally do, like getting outside and going for a walk, changing a litter box, feeding, grooming, or playing with their pet. And having a pet opens the door for human interaction, as well, acting as “social lubricants” for seniors who may not be outgoing individuals by nature. Pet owners often become friends themselves, with the topic of their pets breaking the ice and starting discussions.

In a recent study, researchers found that elderly people who own pets visit doctors 16% less often than those without pets, when faced with stressful situations. After painstaking statistical analysis, another study showed that pet owners with severe coronary artery disease had a significantly greater survival rate than non-pet owners during the first year after their discharge from the hospital. Lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels are also linked to pet ownership, which helps to reduce the risk of heart disease.

At Highgate, we encourage our residents to own pets or socialize with others who do. If a dog or cat can help the people we care for live longer, happier, healthier lives, we are all for it! For more information about Highgate Senior Living and all that we can offer you or your loved one, request more information today.

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