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Call it what you will – pet therapy, pet-assisted therapy, or pets caring for elderly owners – the benefits of animal ownership for seniors have been documented and understood for decades. Pets help relieve stress, alleviate boredom and provide devotion and companionship for elders across the country. Loneliness is a contributor to the failing health of many seniors. Ensure the quality of life for your parent by taking every opportunity to expose him or her to resources that will help prevent boredom, depression, and feelings of inadequacy or lack of self worth.
The benefits of pets for the elderly
Cats and dogs are the most common types of pets owned by the elderly, but rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and turtles are also popular choices. Pet ownership can:
• Lower blood pressure
• Relieve stress
• Combat loneliness
• Ease depression
• Encourage activity for seniors
• Offer a greater sense of worth
• Offer security to their owners
There’s nothing so comforting as to be able to hug a pet and be rewarded with a trusting look, a wag of the tail and even a sloppy kiss or two. Back in 1980, Erika Friedmann, PhD, and professor of Health and Nutrition Sciences for Brooklyn College in New York, studied the effect of pets on heart disease patients. Her co-researcher, Aaron Katcher, MD, reported, "The presence of a pet was the strongest social predictor of survival … not just for lonely or depressed people, but everyone – independent of marital status and access to social support from human beings."
A few years later, another study was performed that showed the benefits of animal ownership by elderly individuals:
• 95% spent time each day talking to his or her pet
• 82% said that owning a pet made them feel better when they were sad
• 65% said petting or caressing their pets made them feel better
• 57% actually confided fears and worries to their pets
Pets offer the elderly, both those living at home and those in assisted living or long-term care facilities, comfort and companionship.
Pets for the Elderly Foundation gives results from the Baker Medical Research Institute, Australia’s largest cardiac center, on its research page. Studies show that pet ownership:
• Reduced rates of developing heart disease
• Lowered cholesterol levels
• Reduced systolic blood pressure in female owners
The Pet Information Bureau in Washington, D.C., believes that pet ownership is "especially important in increasing interest in life – pets give the elderly something to care for, as well as providing an opportunity for exercise and socialization. Call it what you will – pet therapy, pet assisted therapy, or pets caring for elderly owners – the benefits of animal ownership for seniors have been documented and understood for decades.”
U.S. News & World Report, February, 1992, reviewed more than two dozen studies and determined that, "residents exposed to pets consistently smiled more and became measurably more alert than those who did not encounter animals".
The ASPCA promotes animal ownership for the elderly as well, due to the fact that "quality time spent with an animal can be used to manage behavior, stimulate memory, encourage muscle groups to work in harmony and much, much more". — Micky Niegro, ASPCA Animal Watch
No matter what you call it, the benefits of combining the elderly with pets can hardly be denied. Caring for the elderly means offering them every opportunity to care for others, while at the same time caring for themselves. By Denise Clark
Here are some things caregiver's should consider when purchasing a pet for their senior loved one.
• Right pet for the right owner. But because people age so differently, the decision needs to be made carefully—and not just by grown loving children who think it sounds like a way to provide camaraderie. Because there's no single right pet, ask the following questions to help narrow the field, says Dr. Donnenfeld.
• Are you set in your ways? If you don't like change, you may not be a good candidate, say the Andersons.
• Have you had a pet before? Amy Sherman, a licensed therapist and author of Distress-Free Aging: A Boomer's Guide to Creating a Fulfilled and Purposeful Life thinks it's best if the elderly person is an experienced owner.
• Do you have disabilities? Dogs can be wonderful companions who encourage a senior with no major physical limitations to walk and interact with others, Dr. Donnenfeld says. For those who are physically challenged, cats often need less care than dogs, she says. A small dog that's paper-trained or an indoor bird is also sometimes preferable, she says.
• Do you need a therapy pet? If the person is very infirm or impaired, they may be a candidate for an assistance or therapy dog to help them function or interact.
• Is the pet the right age? A puppy or kitten may not be the best choice for elderly owners because of the care they require. A young pet may outlive its owner. Birds especially have long life spans. Yet, it's also important that the pet isn't too old since it may start to have physical limitations and get sick, Dr. Donnenfeld cautions.
• Does the pet have a good temperament? Although some older owners may think a Great Pyrenees would be too big to handle, Daffron found one mixed two-year old so mellow that it would have been a good pet for a senior. "Many older people might think they'd do better with a Jack Russell terrier because it's small but they are very, very, very high energy and require more effort and commitment. So much depends on personality," she says.
• Is the pet healthy? It's important that any pet be examined by a professional. "You don't want to compromise an older person's immune system since some pets carry diseases," says Dr. Hillestad.
• One pet or two? While multiple pets can keep each other company, that may not be a good idea for an older person, says Dr. Hillestad. "Two puppies may bond with each other rather than with the owner," she says.
• Are finances an issue? Pets cost money. A small puppy can run more than $810 its first year for food, medical care, toys and grooming while a fish is less expensive--about $235, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If the pet takes ill, dollars snowball. Groups are available to help allay costs.
For further reading on pets and the elderly click here.
For elderly pet owners, who often live alone or in group facilities, pets can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase social interaction and physical activity and help them learn.
Pets provide other intangibles. "Dogs — and other pets — live very much in the here and now. They don't worry about tomorrow. And tomorrow can be very scary for an older person. By having an animal with that sense of now, it tends to rub off on people," says Dr. Jay P. Granat, a New Jersey psychotherapist.
The owners of Cura Home Health have had through the years cats, dogs, and hamsters and understand the benefits of pet ownership. We love pets! Their unconditional love makes every day brighter.
In 2015 a tragedy happened to one of our pets. A local foundation was extraordinary at all levels in saving our pet. The foundation name is FACE Foundation in Sorrento Valley Area (San Diego, CA). FACE Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is one of saving pets from economic euthanasia. The professionalism provided, as well as the top veterinarians they employ, far exceeded anything we could have imagined. The communication they provided is one that human hospitals and care centers could learn to employ. Click for more information about FACE Foundation.