The Beneficial Bond Between Older Adults and Pets
Owning a pet has been associated with lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, and faster recovery during mental stress, according to a 2001 study. In fact, the American Heart Association issued a scientific statement suggesting that pet ownership (particularly dogs) may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In addition to pet ownership, dog walking allows the dog and owner to become more active and heart-healthy.
Mental Health Benefits
Pets can also help older adults who live with mental health conditions. In a study from 2006, researchers divided seniors in retirement communities into three groups: 48 older adults were given a canary, 43 older adults were given a plant, and 53 adults were given nothing. Those who received the canary said they had a higher quality of life than the other two groups.
A similar study showed dog-assisted therapy may be beneficial for some residents of aged care facilities with dementia as dog-assisted intervention also showed significant improvements on a measure of quality of life and depression scores.
Moreover, older adults who owned a pet were 36% less likely than non-pet owners to report loneliness.
Of course with all of these benefits who wouldn’t want to have a pet? Unfortunately, that may not be possible for all older adults due to weakened immune systems, lack of mobility or where they live. Instead, encourage residents’ families to try:
Bringing their pet for a visit. Families can alternate bringing in their pet. Just make sure the animal is up-to-date on vaccinations with paperwork proving that, has a license if necessary, and can be restrained by a leash or kennel. Most importantly, make sure the animal is friendly because your animal visitor is sure to attract attention from your other residents.
Search for animal-assisted therapies in your area. Some companies have facilities where you and your loved one can meet the animal. Additionally, other companies, such as Pet Partners, visit hospitals, retirement communities, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes, which is something your community may be interested in.
Purchasing a robotic pet. Robopets provide many of the perks of a real pet without all of the responsibility. Most are made with realistic fur for optimal petting experience and make sounds and small movements like Hasbro’s Joy for All Companion Pets. Another study looked at a robotic dog’s effect on nursing facility residents with severe dementia and found they talked to and cared for the robodog. You may also be interested in purchasing a few robopets for your residents to share.