The Healing Power of Pets

Published 07-11-2016 in

     Author George Eliot once said “Animals are the most agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.”  If you own a pet, you probably agree with this statement.  Animals, in all of their furry, slobbery glory can sometimes be the best of companions for people of all ages, even seniors.  Having a pet around can provide companionship and comfort but may even provide some health benefits for seniors.  Numerous studies have shown that, for elderly pet owners, pets can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase social interaction and physical activity and provide an opportunity for learning. 
     Petting and interacting with a furry friend causes a chemical reaction in the brain that can reduce the stress-inducing hormone, cortisol and increase production of the happy hormone, serotonin.  Sometimes isolation is common in seniors which can lead to depression and loneliness.  Animals lend the best listening ear so simply talking to a dog can help boost a person’s mood.  Psychologist Penny Donnenfield who was interviewed by AgingCare.com, feels that “having a pet helps the senior focus on something other than physical problems and negative preoccupations about loss or aging.” 
     Pets often make it easier for seniors to interact with other humans as well.  Pet owners love chatting about their pets with others and pets sometimes act as an ice breaker.  Pets can even provide an opportunity for long term learning.  A new pet can motivate someone to do a little research about their animal or breed.  Mental stimulation is always important but especially for seniors.    
     Some studies have shown that having a pet can have physical benefits in addition to these mental health benefits.  Lower cholesterol levels and protection against heart disease and stroke are among the other benefits.  One of the theories behind this is the routine involved with having a pet.  A pet’s routine often includes regular exercise.  Even if it is just a leisurely stroll around the block, pet owners get more exercise than non-pet owners.  We all know that walking, even a little bit every day, can reduce the risk of heart disease.
     Below is a list of the many health benefits that come with caring for a pet.  This list was compiled by APlaceForMom.com:
          1. Seniors with pets have more emotional stability in times of stress.
          2. Pet owners have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
          3. Heart patients who have owned pets live longer than those without pets.
          4. Male pet owners have fewer signs of heart disease than those who don’t.
          5. People without cats are 30 to 40 percent more likely to die of heart disease than those who own cats.
          6. Heart rates and blood pressure of pet owners increase less when faced with difficult situations if their pet is by their side. 
          7. Pets help fight depression.
          8. Seniors living independently with pets have better physical and mental health than those living without. 
     There is a word of warning however, that owning a pet isn’t always beneficial.  Experts say that sometimes pet companionship isn’t ideal.  Sometimes having a pet can be financially stressful and could even be dangerous.  Thousands of people, of all ages, go to emergency rooms each year because of falls involving pets.  Be sure to consider the age and temperament of the pet, your experience with having other pets, the health of the pet and your financial situation. 
     Proctor Place is a ‘pet-friendly’ Life Care Retirement Community.  For more information about Proctor Place or to schedule a personalized tour, please contact Amy Durbin at (309) 566-4204.