One of the best, yet least known, ways to boost seniors’ physical health and mental wellness is having a pet. Studies document the many benefits from providing physical exercise to daily companionship and promoting emotional health. Pets, dogs especially, can be taken for daily walks which allow for interaction with the outside world, sunlight and fresh air. As long as seniors choose a breed and size of dog that fits their physical capabilities, a dog can be the perfect reason to get up and active and the ideal walking partner all in one.
Beyond the physical benefits, pet ownership adds considerably to the quality of life for elderly adults. Pets provide comfort and boost mood by promoting the flow of feel good hormones in the brain, called serotonin, and decreasing the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. It doesn’t stop there, the calming nature of pets brings down heart rate and blood pressure and helps prevent depression. A pet can literally be a life-saver!
For some seniors, a pet is their primary companion in life. Aging pet owners often put off considering assisted living communities for fear of abandoning their furry loved ones. But moving into assisted living does not mean being forced to give up your four-legged friend. The numbers of pet-friendly assisted living communities is booming as more health care professionals recognize the powerful advantages of dog ownership.
With a little research it’s easy to find out the different pet policies of senior living communities. They often limit weight (usually no bigger than 20 lbs.) and breeds and may even conduct “pet interviews” to determine whether the pet is a good fit for their community. Many communities also allow residents to bring their birds and fish. Many facilities have a designated Pet Coordinator that helps with animal care. A simple call will verify a community’s pet policy.
In addition to being pet friendly, many communities offer pet therapy programs where fostered and rescued animals are brought to make healing guest visits. Animal welfare organizations such as The Humane Society will send volunteers to retirement and assisted living communities, local nursing homes and hospices. The pets get some tender loving care and the seniors get feel-good affection in return.
Seniors looking to add a pet to bring unconditional love into their lives, should keep in mind the age of the pet. Younger animals can be hyper and require training, but older, calmer pets can be a great fit and are already well-trained. Older pets benefit too when adopted by older folks. Since most people want puppies or kittens, older pets often get overlooked at shelters and many never find a loving home due to their age. A previously unwanted pet hits the jackpot when he or she ends up in the loving hands of an elderly owner with lots of time to spoil them with attention and care.
Companionship and unconditional love can change the life of any of us, but especially of elderly loved ones who have lots of free time on their hands and are at risk for illnesses such as depression brought on by loneliness and isolation. Another way to fight the increasing loneliness aging adults feel as they deal with the death of family and friends, and distance from living family, is to schedule monthly care packages that are customized just for them. Knowing they are being thought about and cared for works wonders to boost their mood and the surprise of opening a box of goodies keeps spirits soaring. The thoughtfulness of family and the love of pets help increase the enjoyment the elderly get from their twilight years of life.