Small Pets, Big Benefits
Companionship is something we all want and need to lead a healthy life, but the reality is nearly 29% of the 46 million elderly community, lives alone. Living alone can cause high rates of depression, social isolation, and the need to become overly independent so they don’t inconvenience their loved ones.
The solution? Four-legged, furry friends. We’ve all heard the expression “Pets make you live longer,” but why and how?
Unconditional Love and Beyond
Animals see us in the same light everyday— wonderful , odd-walking creatures who provide them with the basic necessities to live a happy and simple life. In return, we get a non-judgemental, carefree type of partnership that can make getting out of bed in the morning that much more rewarding. With this type of bond comes added responsibility. Ian Cook, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA says, "Taking care of a pet can help give you a sense of your own value and importance. It will remind you that you are capable -- that you can do more than you might think.”
According to a recent study by Melbourne, Australia's Baker Medical Research Institute, those who owned pets had lower levels of cholesterol and triglyceride than non- pet owners did. Out of the 3,394 men and 2,347 women who took part in the study, 784 said they had more than one pet. One might assume depending on the animal, like a dog, that an individual would be more active. That assumption is correct, in fact it makes for more of a routine which many times is lost in the case of living alone. Animals have a schedule, and it’s easy to fall into a pattern with their daily habits. They wake you up to start the day, get you out and about when they need to go on a walk, and remind you it’s time for dinner when the sun goes down— let’s face it, no one likes eating alone.
Another article by Harvard medical school suggests that there might be no clear correlation between owning a pet and lower risks of heart disease, but it is a probable cause in the overall strategy to creating a healthier life for an elderly person.
Another interesting health benefit is pet ownership and it’s link to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Among many health-related issues, Alzheimer’s patients have trouble handling stress. Studies at the University of California at Davis found that Alzheimer's patients endure less stress and have fewer anxious outbursts if there is a pet in the home. Animals act as a calming mechanism for aggressive behavior commonly seen in people with dementia, providing positive nonverbal communication.
“The power of touch also appears to be an important part of this "pet effect." Several studies show that blood pressure goes down when a person pets a dog,” Harvard says.
Pets, dogs in specific, have been linked to lowering stress as well with the power of their “calming effect,” on humans. “For example, some research suggests that people with dogs experience less cardiovascular reactivity during times of stress. That means that their heart rate and blood pressure go up less and return to normal more quickly, dampening the effects of stress on the body.”
The Right Animal For You
Before you head to the shelter and decide between adopting a cat or a dog, here are some details to consider:
Cats and Dogs both live long lives—about 10 to 20 years. In certain situations, an animal could outlive the owner thus creating problems with caring for the pet. If the owner needs to move into a care facility where pets aren’t allowed, it’s important that the individual has a healthy family member to help care for it in times of need.
Many people want to adopt young animals, when they’re in their prime stage of cuteness. However, this can be a mistake for many because they don’t think about the amount of work that goes into a puppy or kitten. You wouldn’t want to be responsible for a human infant at 90 years old, and the same could be said for a pet. Adopting a kitten or puppy means providing the proper amount of exercise to them in order to maintain their sleep schedule, and this could ultimately affect their owners health if they’re on certain medications helping with rest.
Hyperactive breeds, more so with dogs, is also something to consider. For example, it’s probably not best for a 85-year-old to get a Jack Russell Terrier. An article by the popular pet-sitting and dog walking company Rover, suggests that smaller is better for the older community. Poodles (hypoallergenic), corgis, maltese, and Scottish Terriers, are at the top of the list, all being known for their easy-training capabilities, loyalty, and low maintenance energy.
For those who have limited physical range, felines might be the better option. They’re self-cleaning, and only need about 30 minutes of play time a day.
If you’re considering the companionship, there are many different outlets in which to go about the process. LifeLine Animal Project is an Atlanta non-profit organization aiming to end the euthanization of healthy, adoptable animals. They take in over 15,000 homeless animals a year, and work hard to find these lovable creatures happy homes. For a list of community adoption events and to learn more about saving an animal’s life while enriching your own, please visit http://lifelineanimal.org.