5 reasons why seniors should consider having a pet


Owning a pet becomes even better with age.

While reports on the health benefits of taking care of a dog, cat or other animal abound, a new poll suggests that aging adults, in particular, may benefit from a pet.

The national survey on healthy aging surveyed 2,051 adults aged 50 to 80 last fall, more than half of whom reported having a pet. And 88% said their pets helped them enjoy life and 86% said their pets made them feel loved. The survey sponsored by AARP and the University of Michigan also found that 79% of middle-aged pet parents reported that their four-legged friends (or feathered or finned) reduced stress.

Whereas over 40% of seniors regularly experience loneliness (which research has associated with a deterioration in health status, including poor quality sleep, increased stress and increased inflammation), encouraging older adults to adopt pets or giving more access to treated animals, could well be. In fact, among the seniors interviewed who live alone and / or who reported fair or poor physical health, 72% reported that their pets helped them cope with physical or emotional symptoms.

Domestic animals, however, go beyond the benefits to mental health. The survey also revealed that:

Pets relieve pain. Two in five seniors living alone (43%) and 46% of those with fair or poor physical health reported that their pets helped them to free themselves from pain. In fact, a 2012 Pain Magazine study found that therapy dogs provided "a significant reduction in pain and emotional distress in patients with chronic pain." After all, pet owners who look into the eyes of a dog for at least five minutes get a boost of energy. good hormone oxytocin in the brain, reported the journal Science.

Pets help the elderly to follow a routine. More than half (62%) of the seniors surveyed said that caring for their creatures helped them maintain a routine, and 73% said that their pets gave meaning to their lives. The structuring of your days becomes even more important after your retirement because the risk of depression increases when a person does not make sense. And without anything significant to do, a person's cognitive abilities can also diminish. So, staying on top of feeding, walking, grooming and playing with a pet can help fill those off-peak hours and keep the mind alive.

See: Do this less than 10 minutes a day to prevent disability with age

Pets make people more sociable. As stated above, loneliness can be disastrous. isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29% and that of stroke by 32%. An analysis of 70 studies involving 3.4 million people found that people in social isolation were 30% more likely to die in the next seven years. In the new survey, 65% of aging pet owners claimed that their animals connected them to other people.

See: Nearly half of Americans say they feel lonely

Pets keep active aging adults active. People aged 65 and over should do at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) each week, or about 30 minutes most days of the week. And 64% of all pet owners, and 78% among dog owners in particular, said their pet had helped them to be more physically active. This confirms a 2017 study in The Gerontologist that walking in dogs in older adults was associated with more moderate and vigorous exercise, as well as lower BMI and fewer visits to doctor.

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Pets can help seniors to keep up with routine

But one should not adopt a golden retriever for their golden years without wondering how a pet will affect their lifestyle and their finances. Some of the factors that may help leg paws in older adults include:

Pets can be physically demanding. The extra exercise that a person does while walking his dog or playing with his pet also involves risks. A recent JAMA study found that bone fractures in the elderly who walked their dogs more than doubled between 2004 and 2017 in patients 65 years and older; from 1,671 cases in 2004 to 4,396 in 2017. And 6% of seniors in the national survey on healthy aging reported that their pets had caused them to fall or get hurt. Seniors with reduced mobility may wish to adopt a colder, low maintenance animal such as a cat, bird or fish, compared to a large dog with overflowing energy that needs to be walked several times a day. .

Animals become expensive. It takes a lot of effort to look after a dog or a cat; Rover.com reports that dogs cost an average of $ 153 per month to their owners, or $ 1,836 per year. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates the average annual cost of care at $ 875 for a big dog, $ 670 for a cat, $ 200 for a small bird and $ 35 for a dog. fish. an aquarium.) This can be a considerable effort for a fixed income. The Humane Society lists national resources and resources for homeowners who are struggling to afford their animals.

See: Americans are ready to destroy their financial future on behalf of their pets

Pets can transmit diseases. Before bringing an animal home, make sure that it is examined by a veterinarian to ensure his health. Pets can carry certain bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that could be dangerous for older people with compromised immune systems. For example, about 40% of cats carry the bacteria that causes "cat scratch disease", which can be in the form of slightly infected scratches, but can also cause swollen lymph nodes. and fever. Pet owners should always wash their hands with soap and running water whenever they come in contact with the dog's or cat's saliva or stool.

Aging adults can survive their pets. Domestic dogs live on average 10 to 12 years and cats, 10 to 14 years. It is therefore sad that someone who gets older with a younger animal can die before his animal. Or the owner of the animal could be hospitalized, spend time in a short-term rehabilitation center or possibly be transferred to a long-term care center or community. It is therefore important to include pets in estate planning, particularly by appointing a guardian for the animal, and possibly creating a pet trust to take care of the animal.

See: Karl Lagerfeld's cat, Choupette, could inherit a portion of his fortune

In summary: Investing in a pet has many benefits for physical and emotional health, but animals also need a lot of time and energy. The key is to find the perfect match – an older dog or cat, often trained at home and not requiring as much walking as puppies and kittens. A number of adoption programs involving older adults and older pets are popping up across the country, including the PAWS Seniors for Seniors adoption program in Washington State. ; Seniors For Seniors of the Animal League in New York; and pets for the elderly in Illinois.

Or if owning a pet is too demanding or physically expensive, pet therapy services making home visits also develop, including the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and Therapy Dogs International, which are run by volunteers. and which will bring an assistance dog trained 30 minutes-long sessions.

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