How Pets Can Help The Mental Health of Elders
For elders, it can be common to feel a sense of loneliness and isolation, especially during the global pandemic. Spending increasing amounts of time at home and being unable to move freely out and about can prevent them from doing all the activities that they’re used to.
To remedy this issue, getting a pet can provide seniors with a sense of companionship, purpose, and happiness that may have been lacking in their daily lives. Aside from providing mental health benefits, pets can also provide a host of physical benefits. However, choosing the right pet for a senior is dependent on their individual circumstances.
The Benefits of Pet Ownership for Seniors
If your loved one is thinking about welcoming a new pet into their life, here are some health and wellness benefits that can help point them in the right direction. While caring for a pet comes with many responsibilities, it can be argued that the positives greatly outweigh the hardships that senior pet owners may experience.
They can provide a sense of companionship
Many seniors live alone and can quickly become lonely and withdrawn. To counter this sense of isolation, a pet can keep them company and be physically present at all hours of the day.
Whether it’s something as small as a fish or as large as a dog, having someone to care for can help seniors create a more active daily routine and find purpose. A furry or feathery friend can also be petted when they’re feeling especially alone and provide added comfort.
They can help seniors stay active
If a senior chooses to get a dog as a pet, this can help them move around more. An active pet that loves walking can help a reclusive senior get outdoors, breathe in the fresh air, and take a walk around their neighborhood.
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need at a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity to maximize their health benefits. This includes brisk walking, which can lead to better brain health, cardiovascular fitness, reduced risk of chronic disease, and better weight control.
They can reduce depressive symptoms
A 2019 study funded by The Gerontological Society of America and the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition found that individuals who own a pet are less likely to exhibit symptoms of depression and loneliness compared to those who had pets, among those who were aged 50 and older.
In particular, those who have experienced a loss of a spouse through either death or divorce showed far fewer symptoms. This demonstrates that having a pet can improve symptoms related to mild or moderate cases of depression by providing some warmth and companionship.
They can help seniors make new friends
For shyer members of the elderly population, bringing a pet to the park can foster new friendships with like-minded individuals. For instance, if you’re walking a dog, strangers can come up to you and strike up a conversation based on your furry friend.
Alternatively, joining pet groups online and asking for care advice can help seniors meet new people and maybe even find a potential love interest. Other health and wellness activities include asking for help to care for your new pet.
They can help elders feel safer
For those that live alone, a dog’s barking can alert seniors and other residents that live in their neighborhood. Usually, burglars are less likely to target houses where dogs live due to the fact that they’re more likely to be discovered and suffer a physical injury.
With their acute sense of hearing, even smaller dogs can alert your loved one to an unusual noise or disturbance that they might not typically notice. On the other hand, larger dogs can take a more active role and physically deter burglars from causing harm or injury in an unsafe neighborhood, giving them greater peace of mind.
Factors to Consider When Finding the Right Pet
Before choosing a pet to keep your loved one company, it’s essential to think about whether it is compatible with a senior’s lifestyle. Dogs need more care and attention compared to cats, fish, and smaller animals. Depending on their level of activity, personality type, and type of home, some animals may be a more appropriate choice than others.
Their daily lifestyle
Larger dog breeds like German Shepherds and Siberian Huskies have a lot of energy and can be difficult for a less active senior to take care of. Even smaller puppies can be a bundle of energy and be too much to handle. On the other hand, a cat, fish, or bird might be a better choice for a more relaxed and subdued senior.
Their level of experience with pets
If an elder has had previous experience with owning and caring for a cat or dog during their childhood, they’re more likely to be able to cope with the demands and responsibilities of doing so in their later years. However, new pet owners might not be fully aware of all the things that are involved in taking care of a new pet.
Before investing in a pet, knowing that a senior is capable of feeding, bathing, and caring for their pet is crucial. It is also ideal if they have a caretaker or family member that they can share the responsibilities with or call on in the event of an emergency.
Their level of health and physical mobility
If an individual has impairments such as blindness, a seeing-eye-animal or service dog can be an appropriate companion. In addition, some seniors may need a therapeutic or emotional support animal (ESA) if they suffer from anxiety, phobias, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Depending on your needs, there are different steps that you need to take to qualify for an ESA, psychiatric service dog, or other types of service animals.
The pet’s age and temperament
Pets should ideally be compatible partners to their human owners. Researching the different characteristics of breeds can help prospective seniors get an idea of what they’re looking for in terms of energy levels and personality type.
In general, younger animals may be more difficult to care for in terms of energy, but older animals might also be more prone to health issues. Because every animal is unique, meeting the pet in person can help seniors make the right decision.
The health and well-being of the pet
Before adopting or purchasing a pet, it’s a good idea to consult a medical professional to examine them. Elders with weaker immune systems or underlying medical disorders need to make sure that their pet isn’t carrying anything that can impact their physical health.
An unhealthy pet can be an unforeseen financial burden as well, in addition to the emotional pain that they can potentially cause if they suffer from a fatal disease.
Other Alternatives to Investing in a Pet
If you’ve explored the factors above and have come to the conclusion that an elderly individual is unable to care for a pet at home, there are other options to consider. Volunteering, fostering, and pet sitting are some ways that seniors can benefit from the company of an animal on a less permanent basis.
Try volunteering at a local shelter
If a senior’s living situation makes it impossible to have a pet at home, such as apartment rules and regulations, they can check whether their local shelter is accepting volunteers.
Dog walking, playing with cats, and grooming are some of the fun activities that someone can enjoy without having to deal with the permanent responsibility of having a pet of their own.
Think about fostering a pet
Another option is fostering a pet. If a senior wants to have a pet at home but is unable to adopt one, they can look into the idea of caring for a pet over the course of several weeks until they find their future home.
If they’re interested, try contacting your local animal shelter to see if they have a foster care system in place.
Consider pet sitting
For neighbors or other individuals who travel a lot, hiring a pet sitter is an ideal scenario to ensure that their furry loved one is cared for in their absence. Ask around your community to see who needs a pet sitter, whether it’s done in the owner’s home, sitter’s house, or animal clinic.
It’s also a good way to make some extra funds on the side while spending time with animal friends.
Now that you’ve learned all about the mental and physical health benefits of pets for seniors, it’s time to take the plunge and consider whether you’re looking to shop or adopt.
While reputable breeders are one option, adopting from your local shelter can be more affordable and give an unwanted animal a forever home. Some shelters offer reduced fees for older pets and adopters who are over the age of 55.
Comment below if you have any fun stories to share about your pets and feel free to ask any questions about fostering pet care, and adoption! We’d love to hear from you.