Older adults often live alone. This happens due to a divorce, or because their partner passed away, or because the children moved out of the house. Research suggests that pets can help to increase physical activity and social interaction. According to the American Heart Association, studies have even shown that pet owners have lower blood pressure and can faster recover from stress. One study from the University of Maryland even found that pet owners have higher survival rates of heart attacks.
Pets can even reduce loneliness and depression, which can a big issue in any generation. Pets have the ability to help let negative thoughts go, forget their physical problems and increase happiness levels. Usually, older adults are retired, which means that they are the perfect adopters for animals, as they have lots of time to take care of them. Of course, it is important to take your circumstances of life into consideration to choose which pet is right for you. A dog keeps you moving. You have to walk your dog several times a day. Dog walking doesn’t only give your dog exercises, but you’ll also get exercises in. Staying physically active is important, as it can prevent illness and also increases social benefits: interacting with your dog and usually also with other dog owners! Linda, a 74-year-old dog owner from LA says: “I walk my Golden Retriever 3-4 times per day, usually between three and four miles total a day - sometimes even more. He wakes me up in the morning, makes me smile and is always exited to get out and get his exercise. This makes it less hard for me to also get out and exercise.” A study published in The Gerontologist even found that dog walking is also associated with “lower body mass index, fewer activities of daily living limitations, fewer doctor visits and more frequent moderate to vigorous exercise.” Some patients also report that dogs helped them to get well again, and calmed them down before and after a surgery, or other procedures. And dogs aren’t the only helpers! Despite cats having a bad reputation of “being the boss on the house” they sense feelings, watch over sick people and when petting a cat, stress is being released. A cat might be the best option for people who are not that well on their feet, or are in a wheelchair. When deciding on a pet, it is important to decide on the right age of the animal. A pet that is too young, might be too much to handle, older pets are more calm and quiet. You should also check the pet by a veterinarian before you adopt it: a pre-existing health condition can be very expensive and too complicated to deal with. If you can’t get a pet, then there are still many ways how you can interact with one: ask your family or friends if you can visit their animals. Or, take part in pet therapy. There are many providers that even offer home visits with a local volunteer and a trained service dog that is well-behaved. During such a 30-60 minutes session, you can play and cuddle with the pet.