Dogs and Elderly Companionship

Companionship

Did you know? Scientific research says that including a pet as a part of your family brings huge health benefits, especially for those of us over 65 years of age. Here are a few of the results from these studies*:

  • The simple act of holding an animal can relieve symptoms of depression, lower blood pressure, and even decrease surgical patients’ healing times.
  • The long-term survival rates of heart attack victims who had a pet are significantly longer than for those who did not.
  • Widows who have cats are better off medically during their first year, which is a critical stress time, than widows who do not.
  • One year after having a myocardial infarction, dog owners were more likely to still be living.
  •  Dog walking, pet grooming, and even petting provide increased physical activity that strengthens the heart, improves blood circulation, and slows the loss of bone tissue.
  • The most serious disease for older persons is not cancer or heart disease — it’s loneliness. Love is the most important health tonic we have, and pets are one of nature’s best sources of love.
  • Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than non-owners*.

Among elderly people, pet ownership might also be an important source of social support that enhances well-being.  In one study*, elderly individuals that had a dog or cat were better able to perform certain physical activities deemed “activities of daily living,” such as the ability to climb stairs; bend, kneel, or stoop; take medication; prepare meals; and bathe and dress oneself.  There were not significant differences between dog and cat owners in their abilities to perform these activities.  Neither the length of time of having a dog or cat nor the level of attachment to the animal influenced performance abilities.

Companion animals did not seem to have an impact on psychological health but researchers suggested that a care-taking role may give older individuals a sense of responsibility and purpose that contributes to their overall well-being*.

Pets, overall seem to be a therapeutic solution for loneliness. Not only do pets give elderly persons who have no one to love and care for them a reason to go on, but pets also give unconditional love. Pets do not see an old person; they do not see weakness, disability, hurt or pain. The only thing a pet sees is a person wanting to love and be loved.

 

*Griffin JA, McCune S, Maholmes V, Hurley K (2011). Human-animal interaction research: An introduction to issues and topics. In McCardle P, McCune S, Griffin JA & Maholmes V (Eds.), How animals affect us (pp. 3-9). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

*Raina P, Waltner-Toews D, Bonnett B, Woodward C, Abernathy T (1999). Influence of companion animals on the physical and psychological health of older people: an analysis of a one-year longitudinal study. J Am Geriatr Soc. Mar;47(3):323-9.

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