It’s becoming increasingly evident that pets benefit their owners physically, psychologically and socially. It may sound like a tall order for a small bundle of fur to fill, but there’s a lot to be said for the snuggling, laughter and unconditional love that pets provide, and, while human best friends can be evaluative or judgmental, pets are not.
Those Who Take Care of Pets, Take Better Care of Themselves
Many of us occasionally feel alienated from others and some of us, such as the elderly, feel this loneliness even more acutely. Pets can help bridge this isolation by serving as a social catalyst between young and old. With the growing number of elderly people living alone, pets are especially important. They give the elderly something to care for, as well as providing an opportunity for exercise and socialization. Taking care of a pet can also serve as an alarm clock for elderly people – reminding them to take care of themselves, too. In fact, animal companionship can dramatically improve the quality of life and may even have a positive impact on longevity.
Pets also give us a much-needed natural outlet for touching and cuddling – especially to those who live alone. When people speak to animals, they touch them as well. Touching is a means of communication that can be highly effective in reducing stress. Animal companionship is a wonderful prescription for healthy relaxation!
Feel Healthier with a Pet!
Elderly people who own pets make fewer visits to doctors than those without four-legged friends. Pets have been shown to build self-esteem, increase mental alertness and lift the spirits of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Pet owners are more apt to cope by themselves, whereas people without pets went to the doctor 16% more often when faced with stressful situations.
Yes, pet ownership provides a new form of low-cost health intervention. 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. There are instances when an animal can reach an individual in ways that another human cannot. Acceptance and attention from an animal can restore feelings of self worth and lift one from the seat of despair, depression and boredom.
Pets decrease loneliness in the elderly, give a person something to care for, something to watch and perhaps play with, something that provides a sense of security, something that stimulates some degree of exercise…above all, something that necessitates maintaining some kind of daily routine.
Pets ease the advent of old age by diverting an older person’s attention away from himself and onto the playful antics of a dog or cat. The aches and pains are momentarily forgotten. Pets are a source of ongoing life; they serve as a much needed connection to youth. And a pet is the greatest ego booster in the world – they think you’re the greatest!
Animals are non-judgmental in their interactions with us when it comes to socioeconomic status or ability to gather material wealth. Most animals don’t mind how a person looks, acts, sounds or smells. A positive attitude helps the healing process, and every animal lover knows there’s no more positive feedback than the attention of a furry companion.
The very qualities that make us love our pets may make them good for us. Pets give people a sense of purpose, provide nonjudgmental acceptance, and allow people to become attached to something – and feel that something is attached to them. A pet can be a friend and a partner. Allowing pet owners to love and feel loved may be the greatest contribution pets make.
Check your local shelters and rescue missions for older, trained, housebroken, and health-certified pets. They are ready to share love and companionship with you for life!
Lois Young-Tulin, PhD, is an Assistant Geriatric Care Manager at Complete Care Strategies