Seniors and Pets
Learn about the benefits and challenges of having a pet as a senior, how to get a pet, and whether a pet is a good idea for someone with dementia.
The relationship between seniors and their pets is unique and critically important to living a fulfilled life as an older adult. It's been shown having a pet will help you live a happier and potentially even longer life! Studies suggest that having a senior pet can benefit you physically, emotionally, and mentally, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, reducing stress, and helping you connect with people around you.
If you have ever been a pet owner, you would likely agree that your pet brings so much joy to your life. And if you haven't yet or are curious about the bonds between animals and people, it's easy to see how much pets do for their owners. Our team at Referah knows how important pets are for seniors. In this article, we will describe the numerous benefits of having a pet as a senior, as well as a few challenges that can be overcome with guidance. We will also talk about how to get a pet for a senior and whether a pet is a good idea for the elderly with dementia.
How Pets Contribute to Healthy Aging
Whether furry or reptilian, you or your loved one can benefit by having a pet around. Pet ownership has been linked to many positive influences, including some of the following:
- They keep you active. This one goes out to all the dog lovers who benefit from daily walks outside with their pets. These daily walks will help you stick to a regular physical exercise routine, maintain a healthier weight, and get out in nature, which is always a benefit. Who knew fido was your personal trainer too?
- They are your best companions. A pet such as a cat, dog, rabbit, lizard, or fish can help fill a void and prevent loneliness, especially if your partner has passed. Your pet will be there for you at home as your greatest companion and friend.
- Pets lower stress levels. Having your pet around can help you relax. And as your stress levels go down, so can your cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels.
- Help you to be more social. Who doesn't want to share that adoring photo of their pet saved on their phone? Pets are great for making small talk and can make you seem more approachable.
Seniors and Pets — Health Benefits
Beyond the physical benefits, there are also reported physiological benefits of human-animal interactions, which stimulate the release of dopamine and oxytocin to trigger relaxation and other feelings.
While the fountain of youth may not yet have been discovered, we have found the link between longevity and having a pet. Another fantastic benefit of pets is how they can help you cope with physical and emotional symptoms, such as taking your mind off of pain or anguish. Plus, they help you stick to routines (i.e., regularly timed feeding, walks, cleaning, scheduled wake-up and bedtime, and more) and can give seniors a sense of purpose.
Challenges for Seniors with Pets
A common concern for families worried about their elderly loved one getting or owning a pet is whether they can adequately care for the animal. Suppose your loved one is not mobile and cannot walk the dog; that would be an issue. Or, if the dog or cat is too hyper, it could cause more stress and even be a tripping hazard for an older person. Lastly, it is essential to consider if your loved one has the financial means to care for a pet, as food and other expenses can be expensive.
However, with a little planning, many of these obstacles can usually be overcome. Ask a trusted neighbor to take the animal out and have your senior spend plenty of time with the animal before agreeing to take it home.
If you are looking for other ways to stay active and healthy, but cannot have a pet, there are plenty of other ways to keep fit and reduce stress. You can read our next article, "Activities that Help with Arthritis," for tips and ideas that specifically help you stay mobile.
Are Pets a Good Idea for Seniors with Dementia?
People with dementia or Alzheimer's disease benefit from having an animal around just like the rest of us, including to help with reduced stress levels and increased physical activity. Pets can also improve their quality of life, as they encourage independence and can make seniors feel more confident about themselves.
Before committing to pet ownership, consider your loved one's feelings about a pet and their mental and physical capacity for caring for the animal. If they cannot meet the demands of pet ownership, there are alternatives for dog and cat lovers alike – from plush, snuggle-stuffed animals to life-like robotic pets for seniors with dementia. For example, certain products are pet-like stuffed animals that mimic breathing and snoring and are soft for petting and relaxing!
How to Get a Pet for Seniors
Finding the right pet for you or a loved one is essential, and you will want to consider an animal’s unique care needs, personality, background, and more. If you have a particular breed in mind you may try to find a particular breeder. However, shelters have plenty of senior dogs in need of love and companionship. Those who work at the animal shelter can help match you to a pet that will best fit your needs.
Also, older adults who love the companionship of pets but cannot have one themselves full-time can choose to volunteer at an animal shelter, have pet therapy visits, and even pet sit or foster animals at home.
Find Senior Care Near You
Pet ownership benefits the health of people of all ages, including emotional, psychological, and physical health and overall well-being. If you or your loved one feels lonely or disconnected, having a pet can significantly help. Keep in mind the factors and responsibilities of owning and caring for an animal, and make sure you or your loved one is ready when deciding if a pet is the best next step.
Many senior communities are pet-friendly (so you can bring fido with you!) and offer pet therapy visits within the community. If this interests you or your loved one, let Referah Family Connection Agents help you find the best communities across the country. Talk to one of our experts about finding professional senior care and support near you today.