The Healing Power of Pets: Combating Loneliness for Seniors

Strong social bonds with others are important at every age and season of life. Healthy connections have a positive impact on your emotional, mental and physical health. As we get older, it’s common to feel more disconnected from family, friends, and our community. In fact, 1 in 4 seniors ages 65 and older experience feelings of social isolation and loneliness.

A companion pet is one of the most helpful ways to combat loneliness and bring joy to your day-to-day life. Read on to learn more about the benefits of pet companionship for seniors. 

The Benefits of a Companion Animal for Seniors

Many of us have grown up with pets or had them at various points throughout our lives, and most pet owners can attest to how wonderful living with an animal companion can be. Animals are not only adorable, but their companionship can provide friendship, love, and emotional security. 

Research confirms that pet ownership offers many emotional and physical health benefits for seniors. 

Social-emotional benefits

Companionship. Pets stay by your side no matter what kind of day you’re having, and the unconditional love and loyalty they offer are invaluable. With a pet in your home, you’ll have a furry friend to snuggle and share affection with. A pet is sure to entertain you and make you smile each day with its silly antics and endearing personality. 

Increased interaction. Walking your dog will get you out of the house and increase your opportunity to socialize with neighbors and others in your community. Pet-friendly stores and events are an excellent place for both you and your furry friend to socialize with others, too. 

Stress relief. Studies show that interacting with animals and stroking a pet can decrease levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and boost mood-enhancing hormones such as oxytocin and serotonin to reduce stress. Animals like dogs and cats are often in-tune with their owners’ feelings and will respond by sitting close to you and providing much-needed solace and love when you need it most. 

Sense of purpose. The company of a pet gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Beyond that, a companion animal will show that you are loved, wanted, and needed. Your pet is counting on you to feed them, love them, and engage with them each and every day. Studies show that pets can help combat depression and improve your self-esteem and overall mental health.

Creating a routine. Pets thrive on routine and come to expect certain activities at the same time every day — just ask anyone who has a cat waking them every day at 6 am for food! Caring for a pet can add structure to your day-to-day life. Even if you don’t particularly feel like getting up and starting the day, your pet wants you to. Keeping a routine can help reduce anxiety and stress in humans, too. 

Physical Benefits

Pet ownership isn’t only good for your social-emotional health. Pet ownership can keep your body healthy and may even help you live longer. 

Better heart health. Pet ownership and frequent interaction with a pet can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, help you maintain a healthy weight, and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. Dog ownership, in particular, is associated with a lower risk of mortality, possibly due to the cardiovascular benefits. 

Regular physical activity. Playing with, walking, grooming and caring for a pet helps make sure you get physical activity each day. Regular exercise is important no matter your age, but it is particularly beneficial for seniors — it can help reduce the risk of age-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and even some cancers. 

Improved self-care. Caring for a pet can help encourage you to take better care of yourself, too. Pets thrive on routine, and your pet’s presence may remind you to eat regularly, get exercise, and help you get a good night’s sleep. Research suggests that sharing a bed with a dog or cat can help you fall asleep more easily and relieve insomnia. 

Things for Seniors to Consider Before Adopting a Pet

If you’ve decided that you’re ready to welcome a companion animal into your life, you may be wondering what kind of pet would be best suited to your home and lifestyle. Dogs and cats are most popular, but rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs and even fish can provide companionship and emotional support. 

Here are a few things to consider before choosing a pet that will best suit you. 

  • What type of pet would best fit your lifestyle? 
  • What size pet would be best for your home? 
  • What do you want from your pet: companionship, protection, someone to care for? 
  • Do you have support in place to care for your pets if you are unable to? 
  • Do you have the financial means to provide food and veterinary care for a pet? 
  • If you live in an assisted living community, are there rules concerning pets? 

Not ready for a furry family member in your home? Volunteer at a local animal shelter, offer to walk a neighbor’s dog, cat-sit for family and friends or even visit the local senior center on pet therapy day to reap some of the benefits of pet companionship. 

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