Animals and the Elderly: A Healing Combination

 

As we age, we often find ourselves slowing down in life. While a bit of unwinding after a life well lived is not necessarily a bad thing, all too often the elderly find themselves depressed and lonely in their new, quieter lifestyles. For this reason, many choose to get a pet.

According to Dr. Jay P. Granat, a psychotherapist in New Jersey, “Dogs and other pets live very much in the here and now. They don’t worry about tomorrow, and tomorrow can sometimes be quite scary for an older person. By having an animal around with a good sense of ‘now,’ that live-in-the-moment attitude can really rub off. This can provide a lot of comfort and social stimulation for someone who would otherwise be suffering alone at home.”

Studies have shown that simply having an animal around has the ability to lower blood pressure, improve sleep, and help owners stay active. Those that would normally sit at home and find little inspiration to leave the house or even get out of bed will often find that they need to create a routine for their pet. Getting out of bed at the same time every day, going for regular walks, and remembering meal times not only provides their pets with stability and love, it sets the owners up for a healthier lifestyle, also.

Additionally, many elderly individuals find themselves alone in the later years of their life. Often, their children have grown up and moved away to forge their own lives. Sadly, it is not uncommon for an elderly person to find themselves widowed in old age, or living alone because their partner has moved into a care facility. As people age, their friendships become less involved, also. Because of health, fear of traveling, and an inability to withstand bad weather conditions as they once could, many wind up feeling housebound. This is another place where an emotional support animal can provide a great deal of comfort.

Think about the elderly woman in your apartment building with the spoiled cat. Now, think about the elderly man you see walking his dog and talking to it every day. We all know these people, don’t we? It’s a wonderful thing that we do! These individuals are not fighting loneliness- at least not to the degree that they would be without their pets. Pets provide great company. I would venture to bet there are only very few of us that can honestly claim to have never engaged in talking to a pet. I speak to my dog and cat all the time.  

Pets are more than just animals we care for. They are parts of our family. They provide and accept affection, comfort, and care to those that they are bonded to. They can also provide a sense of safety. An elderly person living alone might feel defenseless against the threat of an intruder. Having a dog around that will bark and alert its master when there is a stranger trying to get in provides that person a sense of security. Similarly, even untrained dogs have been known to alert their masters to fires, gas leaks, and other threats.

We should also not forget the bonus that pets provide to their masters in socialization. Where a person might feel awkward engaging with new people, a friendly dog never has any problem introducing its owner to new friends within the community. A leisurely stroll through the neighborhood presents opportunities for an elderly person to converse and get to know their neighbors. A happy face and a wagging tail are great conversation starters, to boot.

While some might suggest that the elderly aren’t physically able to handle the responsibilities of training a puppy or a young pet, they can be a great match for older animals that have also found themselves alone. Your local humane society or animal shelter can help you find the perfect companion for your family member.

Emotional support animals provide many benefits for their elderly companions. Acquiring an emotional support animal for your relative is one of the most important steps you can take in ensuring their emotional and physical wellbeing. It is often hard to convince someone that is set in their ways to get out and exercise twice a day, but- oddly enough- they will usually be more than happy to do so if it means spending time with a four-legged friend. Everyone needs company and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. A beloved pet can be just the thing to jumpstart you or your family member’s transition to a healthier life.