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Companions for Life: Do Pets Help Keep You Healthy as You Age?

June 19, 2015

A growing body of research suggests that senior citizens can benefit from adopting a pet. These benefits can include companionship, a greater likelihood of physical activity, and lower blood pressure. Many seniors prefer adopting older pets who are past their initial rambunctious kitten or puppy years. This benefits both parties - the senior pet owner shouldn’t have much of a challenge housebreaking and training the animal, and older pets, who are often passed over, get the chance to spend their lives in a loving home.

Let's explore some additional benefits of pet ownership for the older population.

Companionship

Most pets are a constant companion, never more than a room or two away. Social contact is essential for the population at large, but often becomes difficult as people age. Seniors can become isolated, which can lead to poor physical and mental health. Having a companion in the form of a pet can possibly alleviate some of this mental and physical deterioration. In addition to the pet providing companionship, it also helps pet owners become more social.Taking your pet for a walk around the block or to the a local animal park can bring about interactions with neighbors. Pets can also act as a social buffer, allowing people who may not be outgoing by nature to talk to other pet owners or people they encounter while out with their pet. 

Mental Benefits

As mentioned above, pets can help ease depression and encourage physical activity (which is also a buffer against depression and stress) in the older population. In addition to easing anxiety, owning a pet can decrease the likelihood of a person developing depression in the first place. Studies have shown that elderly people who own pets are less likely to be on anti-depressant medication. Further, studies that compared the effects of walking with a dog, versus without, showed that seniors who walked with a dog had lower amounts of stress. Incredibly, even simply petting and talking to an animal had a similar effect. Other benefits include a feeling of independence, purpose, and optimism. A senior pet owner gets daily affirmations of their status as a loved and valued person just by owning and caring for their pet.

Physical Benefits

Dog owners noted taking twice as many daily walks as seniors without dogs. That has major implications for a senior's overall health and well-being.  A 1990 UCLA study concluded that owning a pet resulted in a reduction in the amount of time an older person spends in a doctor's office. A further study at Purdue University showed that pet ownership can act as an overall health enhancer. 

Studies have looked at the effects of animal companionship and its benefits in the case of Alzheimer's patients. Not surprisingly, the results showed a marked decrease in agitation, anxiety, and aggression. While a person who has Alzheimer's may not be able to personally care for all the needs of a pet, if it is possible for another person to care for the animal, this could be a great way to help mitigate some of the effects of Alzheimer's. 

While pets are one way to add some companionship to your retirement lifestyle, retirement living communities can offer comfort and a quality of life like no other. Take away the worry of your retirement living by moving into one of the Concordia Lutheran Ministries retirement living communities. Each one of our independent living locations is designed with your best interests in mind, adding to your quality of life and helping you make the most of your golden years. Contact a Concordia location near you today to arrange for a tour of our facilities, and discover how we can help provide you with a truly worry-free way of life.

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