A 2017 survey by Relationships Australia found that older people (aged 75-plus) have the highest levels of ‘emotional loneliness’ (19%), which is the feeling of being dissatisfied because they have a low number of social contacts.
Older people often see their social connections decline: children leave home, spouses die, people downsize and lose connections with their local community.
Loneliness not only makes people feel sad, it has been shown to increase the risk of high blood pressure and poor immune function, and has even been linked to premature death.
Pets can reduce feelings of loneliness, and can therefore help to alleviate some of these problems.
Pets good for our health
Dr Eloise Bright is a vet and president of Pets and Positive Ageing (PAPA), a voluntary community organisation that helps ageing owners with their pets.
“With increasing levels of loneliness in the community, pets are a source of comfort and companionship, particularly for older people,” Dr Bright explained to HelloCare.
Dr Bright added, “We also know that pets are good for our physical health as we age.”
According to the RSPCA, owning a pet can have several physical and psychological health benefits, including:
What happens when older people have to move into care?
And so it follows that when an older person begins to think about changing their living circumstances, pets are often a central part of their decision making, and this can cause significant stress and anxiety.
“Pets definitely influence where people live,” Dr Bright agreed.
“Many pet owners would never dream of giving up their pet, so choose somewhere [to live] that is pet friendly, or they stay in their own home for as long as possible.”
PAPA maintains a list of Canberra aged care homes that accept pets, and lists them on their website. However, the matter is often not straightforward.
“There are certainly many limitations on what pets are acceptable, and many pet owners are still not aware that there are so many facilities that do allow pets,” Dr Bright said.
PAPA hopes to raise the profile of ageing pet owners and ensure they know their rights when it comes to rental accommodation and pets.
It is concerns like these that mean many older people put off getting a pet because they are concerned about what will happen to it should they need to go into care or even die.
“We recently conducted a survey of older pet owners to identify the barriers to pet ownership.”
PAPA works closely with services such as Northside’s Pet Assistance and Wellbeing Service, which helps support older pet owners with pet care.
Dr Bright also recommends that older people make plans for circumstances in which a pet might need to be cared for in an emergency.
“We recommend that pet owners work out what they would do with their pet should they need to go into hospital unexpectedly,” Dr Bright told HelloCare.
Do you think pets should be allowed in all aged care homes? Share your thoughts below.