Our senior population has always been at risk of isolation. Being amid a pandemic has increased that risk exponentially. While human to human contact has been minimized for every demographic, the need for companionship and connection is, perhaps, more vital than ever. Luckily, the addition of a pet may help fulfill many of the emotional needs that are lacking in a senior’s life. Read on to learn our top five reasons why the senior in your life could benefit from having a pet.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are several benefits of owning a pet. This includes decreased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness, and increased opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities, and socialization.
With the Coronavirus pandemic and the growing potential for senior isolation, pets may provide a sense of companionship to their owners. Loneliness may lead to depression and anxiety. The addition of a living being may help the senior in your life overcome those conditions and cope with long periods without friends or family around.
The bond between a human and their pet should not be underestimated or taken lightly. A study conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which included 2,233 pet owners in the United States (74% of dog owners, 60% of cat owners, and 45% of bird owners), considered their pet to be a child or family member. Imagine the amazing psychological and mental health benefits that would have on a senior, who’s family has grown up and moved out. The study also revealed that pet owners in the United States spent $34.4 billion on their pets, making the pet industry nearly double the toy industry’s size.
Pets may offer the elderly a reason to get out and get active. You may be wondering, “what is the best pet for a senior?” For those who can still walk and move about with ease, a dog may be the perfect addition to their lives. It will give them a reason to stay active and enjoy the outdoors. Generally, larger dogs require more extensive exercise regimens and more space (i.e., a big yard). If that isn’t available, consider either a smaller dog or an elderly dog. Check with your local ASPCA or shelter. They may even offer free pet adoption for seniors. With several fire evacuations in effect on the west coast, many pet shelters are overfull and in need.
Cats also make fantastic pets for seniors because they are relatively self-sufficient and don’t need to be taken for walks. A self-cleaning litterbox may be all that is required. If the cat is allowed outdoors, consider installing a pet door so that they can go in and out without any assistance.
Because the senior population may be vulnerable, they have an inherent risk for home theft or burglary. If no one nearby can help protect them from predators, a pet may offer the perfect solution. Even though most well-natured dogs won’t necessarily attack someone who trespasses, they will likely bark and make noise when anyone approaches their home. This can, at the very least, give the senior an alert that someone is coming. If the pet of choice is a larger or more aggressive breed, they may be territorial enough and pose a threat to unwanted visitors by looks alone.
After the passing of a spouse, many elders wind up living alone. They may go days or weeks without friends or family members stopping by for a visit. This can lead to emotional (or physical) isolation. All human beings need touch and connection to maintain their mental health. A pet can be the perfect solution for fulfilling this need. Mammals especially enjoy being pet, touched, cuddled, and spoken to.
According to Dacher Keltner, Ph.D. and professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkely, “To touch is to give life.” In his article, he explains that preterm newborns who received a mere three 15-minute sessions of touch therapy each day for just five to ten days gained a whopping 47% more weight than premature infants who had received standard medical treatment. He also explains that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes, and even calms cardiovascular stress. This is all due to the release of oxytocin, aka, “the love hormone.” This release is triggered by touch and contact. A pet may be the perfect means to stimulate this response, and these benefits for a senior who lives alone.
Structure and Routine
After a lifetime of working hard and a fruitful career, many elders may be burdened with a sense of futility and boredom after they retire. The transition from upholding many responsibilities and caring for others to a life alone with no assignments may lead to depression and confusion. The pandemic proved to many people of all ages that it could be easy to lose track of what day it is and the time when the structural confines of schedules and tasks are removed from our lives.
For an elder who lives alone, a pet may help instill a sense of purpose, structure, and routine. Taking care of a living being who demands food at certain times, regimented exercise, health and wellness checks, and regular hygiene care may be an excellent addition to the life of someone who doesn’t have much else to worry about. It could give them a sense of structure and routine.
In addition to these five benefits of pet ownership, there are many opportunities for socialization with other humans based on having a furry friend. If you are in the Boston area, here are several Meetups for pet owners. Most places have Meetups, so feel free to search the city that you live in to connect with other people with pets.