Visit Dr. Ernie Ward at www.DrErnieWard.com or on Facebook.
One of the most challenging aspects of aging is isolation and loss of social interaction. Whether homebound due to physical challenges or illness, many senior citizens may begin to feel cut off from the outside world and struggle with depression. Those feelings of loneliness can lead to stress, anxiety, and medical complications. A new study proves that pets can cheer up lonely seniors and enhance quality of life. But we pet lovers already knew that.
Psychiatrists at the University of Rochester Medical Center examined 830 primary care patients over age 60. The researchers understood from earlier studies that older adults who reported feelings of loneliness were at increased risk for many serious physical and mental health conditions, including early death. They wanted to determine if social-connectedness, especially pet ownership, could promote health and well being in senior citizens. In other words, would owning a pet decrease an elderly person's loneliness and improve their health?
The group most likely to report feelings of loneliness was those living alone without a pet. When the psychiatrists adjusted for living status (alone or not alone), age, and happy mood, they found those living with pets were 36% less likely than non-pet owners to report loneliness. That means 36% more seniors likely to be happier in my book. Fewer people suffering from loneliness means happier and healthier humans living longer, more fulfilling lives. Sign me up!
The University of Rochester examiners concluded that pet ownership could help spread feelings of social connectedness and significantly decrease feelings of isolation in older patients. They further postulate sharing a home with a pet could improve an older person’s overall well being. I believe pets have the power to heal our hearts regardless of an individual’s age. This study demonstrates how influential that healing power is for those most in need.
If you know an older person living alone and struggling to find motivation to get out, I encourage you to visit them with your pet. Ask them to pet-sit for you. See if they’d be interested in fostering a homeless pet. I strongly urge everyone, especially those living alone, to consider sharing their home with a pet. The more people interact with pets, the more likely they are to interact with other humans and shrug off depression. During my twenty-plus years of veterinary practice, I’ve seen more than one case of a pet literally saving their owner’s life, just by being there. Many people need a reason to get up in the morning, go for a walk, and visit the grocery. Without a purpose, many seniors fall into harmful patterns of behavior that ultimately lead to depression, illness, or worse. Many times the best prescription for healthier living comes with four legs and fur. If laughter is the best medicine then pets must be the best cure. But we pet lovers already knew that.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Can Cats Cure Loneliness?
Cats are much easier to care for than dogs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will help with loneliness. Some seniors might prefer this type of low-maintenance pet, but less work also means less interactions with your cat. Cats generally prefer to keep to themselves and don’t need much attention, so for someone looking for a loving companion that will always be there for them, a cat may not be the best option.
The results of this study showed that people with cats felt about the same social isolation as those with no pets at all. Therefore, there appeared to be very little psychological benefits to owning a cat while feeling lonely.
The Pet Boost: Furry Friends Help Seniors Feel Less Lonely
(NewsUSA) - Many older adults experience feelings of loneliness and isolation as they age, but pets can provide the companionship and love seniors desire. A new survey conducted by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care Network, found regular interaction with animals can help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness in older adults.
The most frequently cited benefits of pet ownership are company, comfort, unconditional love, entertainment and improved mood. In fact, 86 percent of pet owners agree they would be lonelier and less happy without their pet, and 58 percent agree that they would not be as physically healthy without their pet.
The companionship and love provided by a pet can be especially meaningful for those most at risk for isolation. Home Instead found that pet owners who live alone are significantly more likely to report increased benefits of pet ownership.
Owning a pet can also be an important factor for seniors deciding where they will live as they age. According to the survey, 82 percent of older adults say they will not consider moving to a senior living community without their pet.
While interaction with animals has been shown to improve mental and physical well-being in older adults, research from Home Instead confirms that seniors don't need to own pets to experience the benefits. Those who regularly interact with, but don't own, pets report feeling better just spending time with animals owned by family, friends and neighbors.
There are many ways seniors can interact with animals without taking on the responsibility of pet ownership. Here are a few ideas:
* Volunteer at a rescue organization or animal shelter. Many rescue organizations and animal shelters could use an extra hand. Seniors can help provide care for animals, including feeding, watering, restocking supplies, washing dishes, walking dogs, cleaning cages and enclosures or socializing with the animals. Volunteers experience the benefits of interacting with pets, and they can provide some care to an animal in need.
* Get to know your neighbors' pets. Seniors who regularly walk their neighborhoods will likely see pet owners walking their dogs. Asking to join them for a walk might lead to new friendships with neighbors and dogs.
* Connect with a therapy animal. Pet Partners therapy teams, made up of a pet owner and his or her registered animal, go into many locations where seniors are living or being treated, such as hospitals, hospice centers and care communities.
* Visit a pet store. Some pet stores sell small animals, such as guinea pigs, hamsters, chinchillas, gerbils, mice, rats, certain geckos, bearded dragons, snakes, and specific types of frogs, birds and fish. Visiting can provide a pet fix!
With so many options available, finding the right animal interaction for each individual should be as easy as a walk in the dog park.