Pets are adorable and make excellent companions. They can also have a positive impact on a person’s health and well-being, especially for seniors. When you’re retired, you no longer have to wake up early and go to work, which could lead to long periods of inactivity. If you’re not the socializing type, you might stay at home for long periods of time. Old age also comes with a few downsides. However, when you have a pet, everything changes for the better.
Keeping or interacting with an animal can provide physical, mental, and emotional health benefits, which are crucial for older adults. Here’s a look at what they are.
According to the National Poll on Healthy Aging 2019, which surveyed seniors aged 50–80 and of which more than half reported owning a pet, two in five of those who live alone (43%) and 46% of those in fair or poor physical health said their pets helped them take their mind off their pain.
What’s more, a 2012 study published in Pain Magazine revealed that therapy dogs provided a “significant reduction in pain and emotional distress for chronic pain patients.” This is because when you look into a dog’s eyes you’ll get a boost of the feel-good hormone oxytocin in the brain, as reported by the journal Science.
Stick to a routine
More than half (62%) of the surveyed seniors reported that caring for their pets helped them maintain a routine. After you retire, structuring your days is important to reduce the risk of depression. Additionally, having meaningful things to do such as feeding, grooming, walking, and playing with your pet can help prevent cognitive decline.
Be physically active and healthy
Animals require care, so the seniors also reported their pets helped them to be more physically active (64% overall and 78% among dog owners). This supports a 2017 study in The Gerontologist, which found older adults who walked their dogs had more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise, as well as lower body mass index (BMI) and fewer doctor visits.
Moreover, Care Consultant Natalie Besser says taking care of pets lowers the risk of developing obesity and hypertension. So having a pet can keep you both active and healthy when you’re no longer working, improving your retirement years.
If nursing homes in your area don’t allow animals, there are programs such as the Senior PetCare program of LifeCare Alliance that accepts donations of pet food and supplies to help seniors stay in their homes, care for their pets, and keep them both healthy. There are also pet therapy programs, such as Alliance Therapy Dogs, where trained animals visit seniors who are unable to keep pets for any reason.
Connect with others
Loneliness and social isolation increase the risk of heart disease by 29% and stroke by 32%. This shows the importance of socialization. In the survey, 65% of pet owners claimed their pets connected them with other people—they give them something to talk about and provide a way to make friends or chat with caregivers.
Feel more secure and happy
Taking care of an animal and simply being around it can produce a chemical reaction in your brain that could help lower stress hormones and increase the production of the feel-good hormone serotonin.
Pets also provide emotional support and companionship, helping their owners to enjoy life (88%), as well as make them feel loved (86%) and reduce stress (79%). This means seniors, especially those who are divorced or widowed, will feel more secure and happy with a pet.
Pets are good for seniors
So there you have it, a pet can make your retirement years happier and healthier. You could buy or adopt an animal if you have the money and ability to look after it and if your place of residence, nursing home, or assisted-living facility allows pets.
If not, you could always have pet therapy visits or look after other people’s pets. You should also consider what kind of animal would be best suited to your needs, lifestyle, and commitment level. Once you’ve found the right pet, be it a dog, cat, bird, or fish, you can reap the health benefits they provide.