Lots of people like to have pets. In Canada, 57% of all households in the U.S. have at least one critter that the owners love and care for. The most common pets are dogs (38% of households) and cats (25% of households). Other types of animals such as fish, birds, horses, ferrets, hamsters, reptiles and are found in 13% of homes.
The medical community is learning from these pet owners. They are noticing that the companionship of the animals affects us on 4 primary levels – physical, social, emotional and cognitive. These affects can lead to a number of health and life benefits.
For seniors, a pet can fulfill their need to care for others, create a sense of purpose and offer a relationship based on unconditional love. They can also help their owners feel valued, especially when the humans in their life make them feel insignificant or like a burden.
Benefits of Pets for Seniors
A pet can have positive effects on its senior owner. Here are a few of the potential benefits.
- Lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
- Decrease feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression.
- Lead to more social contacts and open the door to making new friends.
- Create movement and increase exercise.
- Visit the doctor less often and take less amounts of medications.
- Offer unconditional love and daily doses of affection.
- Offer a sense of security.
- Help to deal with the loss of a spouse and other loved ones.
- Provide an outward focus and decrease the emphasis on personal problems.
What Is Pet Therapy For Seniors?
With all the potential benefits of having animal companionship, the medical community is taking action. There is research. For example, studies have shown that people who have suffered a heart attack live longer if they return home to a pet.
The therapeutic use of pets as companions is also becoming more common. Known as pet therapy or animal-assisted therapy (AAT), relationships with animals are encouraged and integrated into the care plan. When ownership is not possible, service companies and volunteer organizations bring animals to the seniors on a regular basis.
As for what pets make the best companions, can you believe the type of critter doesn’t matter? What does matter is the level of interest the person has in the animal. The more interest, the stronger the relationship, the greater the rewards.
Note: To avoid creating stress, the pet must suit the temperament, life style and living quarters of the owner/patient.
(Sources: Pets For The Elderly Foundation, holistic-online.com, American Veterinary Medical Association )