If you’ve been lucky enough to have a pet, then you know just how much happiness they can bring. They can make you smile, listen to you, and provide comfort when you feel down. But they can do much more than providing emotional support. For the elderly in particular, animals can play an important role in their health and wellbeing.
Below are 8 important ways animals can benefit the elderly, both mentally and physically:
Whilst there is little evidence to suggest that animals can improve people’s physical ailments, they can have a significant impact on people’s emotional wellbeing. This in itself can lead to a quicker physical recovery, perhaps following a fall, an operation, or infection. Many hospitals allow animals to visit patients, acknowledging that they can provide many emotional benefits.
Elderly people may have moved from their home to a care facility, they may be far away from their family and friends, or may even have lost a loved one. It’s therefore understandable that many elderly people find themselves feeling lonely from time to time. However, with their unconditional love, animals can be a huge help in combatting loneliness. Some care homes even have special sessions where friendly animals are brought in, bringing so much joy to people’s lives.
As well as elderly people feeling lonely, there are lots of difficult changes to come to terms with. They may have aches or pains, may not be able to do things they once did, may have lost those dear to them or may even be considering the next stages of their own life. As a result, elderly people may feel unhappy, or even depressed. Depression can have lots of negative effects on a person’s health. It can lead to inactivity and even refusal to eat. However, it can be difficult to feel low when there’s an animal around, whether you’re in the company of a dog wagging its tail, a chatty parrot, or a purring kitten.
It can also be easy to simply give up as you get older, but owning a pet can give elderly people a renewed sense of purpose. It’s a reason for them to get up and look after themselves, as they now have someone relying on them, to provide food, water, love, and attention.
Many studies have been carried out to show that pet ownership can help to lower blood pressure and stress levels. In some cases, petting an animal has even been shown to be more effective than common anti-hypertension drugs, such as Lisinopril.
Some elderly people may struggle to communicate with others or find being around lots of other people overwhelming. However, an animal can help people relax, which can help them to open up, be more alert and even encourage them to talk more freely to other people. This can be especially useful for doctors, nurses, carers, and other medical staff.
For elderly people who find themselves living alone, it can be unsettling, especially at night. Elderly people can often feel vulnerable, even though their home may be physically secure. A pet, whether it’s a cat, dog or even a budgerigar, can sometimes provide an extra sense of security as they will no longer feel alone.
As well as many emotional benefits to being around animals, there are physical benefits too. Animals such as dogs need to be walked regularly, giving elderly people a reason to stay active. Of course, it’s important to consider this step carefully first, as dogs can be a lot of hard work, especially larger breeds.
As people get older, special therapy dogs can be a significant help, particularly around the home. For those with limited mobility, dogs can help them collect objects, or walk with those who have limited visibility. Another way therapy dogs can help the elderly is in an emergency, such as a fall. A trained dog may be able to retrieve the telephone or get help quickly in other ways.