The Importance of Animal Companionship for Senior Adults
By Kimberly Gauthier
Many older adults have a pet they consider to be a member of the family. “Pet parents” take their canine companions to doggy daycare, hire a pet sitter to keep their finicky feline company when they will be away, and even schedule puppy play dates.
The physical and mental health benefits a pet offers are too numerous to count. This is especially true for older adults. From lowering heart rate to lifting depression, having an animal around can be life-changing. It is the reason pet therapy has gained in popularity and is now a routine part of the day for a variety of health care organizations ranging from retirement living programs to Alzheimer’s care programs.
As a nurse practitioner who has worked in senior living for several years, Kristen Mauk believes pets provide valuable companionship for seniors. She has witnessed how pets help stave off loneliness, beat back depression, and provide a senior with a sense of security because they are never alone.
“I had been feeling really lonely and depressed, and I deal with mental illness. In just over a week, Sadie has totally brought me out of my depression,” says 55-year old, Lila Hutchinson.
Lila adopted 5-year old, Sadie, from Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Having a pet to greet you with excitement and love can help to alleviate stress, fight anxiety and promote relaxation.
Jeanie Lambe, Administrative Services Director for The Gardens at Town Square, revealed that their “residents really enjoy having a pet companion any time of the day or night right by their side.” Her observations make it easy to see how having a pet can ease the stress of moving into an assisted living or retirement community.
Fitness & Health
Dogs unknowingly provide their owners with a reason to stay active and social. While taking the dog for a walk, a senior is more likely to make new friends, especially little ones. Bonding across the generations is often the result of a pet.
The regular exercise a dog requires can also help their senior owner lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, and strengthen muscles and joints. Healthier muscles and joints can decrease an older adult’s risk for falls.
According to Glenn N. Levine, M.D. and professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston Texas, “pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease.”
“Having pets also keeps [residents] in touch with the outside world – going for walks, to vet appointments, making sure the pet is vaccinated and licensed. It seems to keep them focused! Pets help them as they transition into being a senior,” explains Karen Peterson, Administrative Services Director for University House Wallingford.
Sense of Purpose
As older adults transition to a new chapter in their lives and move to a senior living community, a pet can give them a sense of purpose. Wendy Wright, Administrative Services Director for Ida Culver House Ravenna, shares her love of animals with residents, and enjoys hearing their pet stories. She believes it helps residents find a connection with each other.
“We frequently share funny anecdotes and doing so brings laughter and shared appreciation for our littlest family members. I see our residents out walking their dogs, getting exercise and enjoying the attention their pets receive from other residents and employees alike. Pets are appreciated at Ida Culver House Ravenna,” states Wright.
Seniors often feel judged by a society that is focused on youth and beauty. Lynette Whiteman, Executive Director of Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey, often observes how seniors are self-conscious about their appearance, how slow they move, their loss of function and more. A dog provides unconditional love. Lynette has witnessed firsthand how owning a dog helps a senior relax and be themselves.
“I would say that one of the benefits [of pet ownership] is that it provides the residents with a better sense of belonging and it gives them someone to ‘take care of’. Many have spent their lives raising kids, grandkids, and caring for their spouse. When they no longer have those things, a pet fills the void for many,” says Peterson.
Pet-Friendly Senior Living in Seattle
Era Living communities are proud to be a pet-friendly. You can learn more by calling the community nearest you for more information.