The Benefits of Pets for Older Adults
Updated on: February 2023
Written by: Kelly Koeppel
As people age, health and mobility can often be limiting factors when it comes to socializing and exercising. Many older adults find it challenging to get out and about regularly due to physical limitations or chronic illnesses, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Dogs (and other pets) can help reduce social isolation and loneliness
Better Heart Health
Studies have found that individuals with pets have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Increased Physical Activity
Walking a dog regularly helps keep your heart rate up, improving circulation and energy levels.
Despite these challenges, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is critical for older adults. In addition to reducing the risk of serious health conditions like heart disease and diabetes, leading an active lifestyle can help to promote overall psychological well-being by boosting your self-esteem, sense of purpose, and quality of life.
This is where pet ownership comes in. Pets offer many direct benefits for older adults, from promoting social interaction with other pet owners in the community to providing support for those with health issues or mobility limitations. In addition, caring for a pet can encourage regular physical activity; for example, simply walking a dog each day provides both physical and mental benefits. Overall, pets play an essential role in helping older adults live healthier lives as they age.
Isolation is a serious health concern for older adults, with many negative consequences for physical and psychological well-being. Studies have shown that social interaction is crucial for sustaining cognitive ability and overall health, particularly for seniors at risk of dementia or other debilitating conditions.
However, due to declining mobility and growing dependence on others for care, it can be difficult for older adults to connect with others in their community or partake in social activities. This isolation can lead to several adverse effects on a person’s mental and physical state, including:
- Depression and anxiety
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Owning a pet is one way to reduce the negative effects of social isolation. Dogs are incredibly social creatures that love forming close bonds with their humans. They make wonderful companions and bring joy into the lives of their owners through simple daily activities like walks and playing fetch.
According to recent studies, dog owners who are socially isolated have better mental health than other socially isolated older adults who never had a pet. These findings suggest that dogs (and other pets) can help reduce social isolation and loneliness while providing psychological benefits.
By providing companionship and alleviating feelings of isolation in older adults living at home or in long-term care facilities, pets can play an important role in reducing the risks associated with decreased social engagement.
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Increased Physical Activity
Pet ownership is a fantastic way for older adults to stay active and healthy. Not only does playing with pets offer regular exercise, but the responsibility of caring for an animal can be very rewarding. For example, walking a dog regularly helps keep your heart rate up, improving circulation and energy levels. In addition, consistent physical activity has been shown to:
- Strengthen bones and muscles.
- Improve chronic conditions.
- Protect against diseases.
- Improve energy and libido.
So whether you’re playing catch in the backyard or going for long walks together, owning a pet can be a fun and effective way to stay physically active as you age.
Pet ownership is well known to have many stress-reducing benefits. Numerous studies have found that individuals who own pets tend to have lower cortisol levels, indicating a decreased physiological response to stress. Likewise, pets provide oxytocin boosts (also known as the “love hormone”) which can have a calming and soothing effect. Other ways that pets can help reduce stress include:
- Providing comfort and companionship during times of loneliness or grief.
- Helping to lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
- Elevating serotonin and dopamine levels improves mood and provides a sense of happiness.
For older adults, this stress reduction can be particularly beneficial. As people get older, their bodies are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of chronic stress. Therefore, by reducing stress through pet ownership, older adults can help protect against the development of these diseases and maintain a good quality of life in their later years.
Sense of Purpose
Being happy and healthy in old age isn’t just about maintaining your physical fitness and avoiding disease. It’s also important to have a sense of purpose in life. A sense of purpose has been linked with increased lifespan, lower rates of dementia, and better mental and physical health. Purpose serves older adults in the long term by providing them with a reason to wake up each day and stay engaged in life.
Pets can be essential in providing a sense of purpose for older adults. Caring for a pet requires your time, effort, and attention. This can help to keep older adults engaged and motivated, even when faced with other health challenges. Small tasks like feeding, walking, and grooming a pet can give older adults a sense of purpose and help them to feel needed and valued. Thus, improving mood and overall health in the process.
One of the most important benefits of pet ownership for older adults is improved self-esteem. A sense of self-worth and belonging are essential for maintaining mental health as you age. Because your pet loves you unconditionally, they can provide a significant boost to your self-esteem.
Research has found that maintaining or improving your self-esteem could help ward off health problems. Since self-esteem is linked to psychological well-being and physical health, boosting self-esteem would be an effective way to prevent future health issues. Therefore, with the confidence and security of having a pet, you’re better able to weather the ups and downs of aging gracefully.
Better Heart Health
Last but not least, older adults can also enjoy better heart health thanks to pet ownership.
Studies have found that individuals with pets have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, both of which are risk factors for heart disease. In addition, pet owners tend to have higher survival rates following a heart attack. Additionally, a study of seniors with pre-to-mild hypertension discovered that those who owned dogs had lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings.
Alternatives to Full-time Pet Ownership
If you’re an older adult who’s interested in the benefits of pet ownership but not ready for the full-time commitment, there are several options available:
- Fostering — When you foster an animal, you provide a temporary home for them until they can be placed in a permanent home. This is a great option for older adults who want the companionship of a pet but can’t commit to full-time ownership.
- Volunteering at a local animal shelter — If you’re not ready to foster an animal, you can still get the benefits of animal therapy by volunteering at your local animal shelter.
- Visiting a petting zoo — If you’re not able or willing to care for a pet, you can still enjoy the benefits of animal interaction by visiting a petting zoo.
- Spending time at a dog park — Dog parks provide an excellent opportunity to socialize with people and dogs. And you don’t have to own a dog to enjoy the benefits!
Pet ownership can have many benefits for older adults, so if you’re considering getting one, be sure to do your research to find the best option for you.