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Old age is an inevitable part of life. As a person advances in age, they slow down, and become less independent. Elderly people have specific requirements for physical activity, diet, medication and general lifestyle. One of the most positive effects on the elderly and infirm is the effect that keeping pets have on them.

Pets live for the moment. They don’t have any concerns for the future, unlike the elderly, for whom the future tends to be an unknown and foreboding entity. This optimistic attitude of pets has a positive effect on elderly people.

Psychologist Penny B Donnenfeld actually takes her dog to her office in New York. She says that she has seen instances where elderly patients suffering from memory loss remembering better, on seeing her dog and associating it with their own experiences. Penny says that the presence of a pet helps an elderly person focus on more positive issues, rather than their age-related physical and mental problems.

There is also a social aspect to elderly people adopting pets, especially abandoned ones. These unwanted, neglected animals get a second chance and that too, in a home where their elderly owners have enough time on their hands to look after them properly – it proves beneficial to society in the long run. In fact, if a pet is being adopted for a senior, it is always a good idea to get one from a shelter, because the people at the shelter are likely to know about the temperament of the animal and find a good match for the new owner.

There are many advantages of keeping a pet for the elderly. Some of them are:

Lowered Blood Pressure and Pulse Rate

It is a well-known fact that pets lower the blood pressure and pulse rate on a person due to the calming effect they have on them. In a survey in which 60 males and females participated, blood pressure levels were noted to be the lowest while petting a dog, which was called the “petting effect”. This has also been endorsed by the American Heart Association (AHA) who has declared that having a pet can considerably lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Less Frequent Visits to the Doctor

The next advantage is that due to a more stable cardio-vascular system, there is less reason to visit a doctor.  Pets have a calming effect on people of all age groups, which reduces stress levels to a minimum, and results in an overall improvement in health.

Reduced Depression

There are several ways in which a pet reduces depression of a person. The very presence of a pet is soothing enough to make an elderly person’s depression lift. The unconditional love which pets offer is an irresistible invitation to throw one’s worries to the wind, and just share their joie de vivre. Pets are a welcome distraction which actually changes the mood of a person. And one more aspect is the touch therapy of pets. When pets and their owners touch each other, it has a kind of psychological healing power, which works wonders for depression.

More Social Reasons to Make New Friends

There is no better ice-breaker than a pet. An elderly person may easily be approached by totally unknown people due to a pet. Going forward, it will the pet that forms a common link between a new friendship, and that is the way a pet helps a person in making new friends which can be rather difficult in old age.

Elderly People Become More Active

The person who owns a pet, especially a dog, typically becomes more active, because the work involved in looking after a pet calls for some increased activity. Being active has long been considered as one of the keys to a longer life, and one of the factors that lead to good health. With the increased activity that a pet brings into their life, an elderly person starts to lead a healthier and more meaningful life.

Pets Help During Bereavement

Bereavement is something that elderly people tend to experience more. This is may be due to the death of a spouse, friends or acquaintances. As their friends are likely to be also advanced in their years, it is quite common for quite a few of them to pass away over a short period of time. The rock-solid companionship and affection offered by a pet acts as a soothing balm during a time of bereavement.

Pets are an Ideal Solution for Loneliness

Elderly people are typical candidates for loneliness. At an age when children, if any, have moved on, and perhaps there is no frequent access to grandchildren and especially in the case where one’s spouse has passed away, loneliness tends to set in. A pet is an ideal means for filling the gap, to provide some companionship for an otherwise lonely person.

Elderly Pet Owners Become More Independent

Keeping a pet is not always a bed of roses. There are decisions to be made. A routine needs to be established for providing the pet with basic requirements, such as feeding, grooming and exercise. This helps an elderly person who owns a pet to become more capable in their day-do-day activities.

Enhanced Sense of Security

According to a study taken in the late eighties published in the Los Angeles Times, children develop a sense of security when they have a pet to cuddle – babies who had a pet with them exhibited a reduced tendency to suck their thumb. Similarly, and elderly person tends to feel more secure with a pet to cuddle up to occasionally.

Things to Consider while Adopting a Pet for the Elderly

  • The temperament of the new owner needs to be considered. If they are set in their ways, getting a pet may not be a good idea.
  • Previous experience with pets should also be considered. An elderly person will be more comfortable with pets, if they have kept them earlier in life.
  • Disabilities also need to be factored in. A person with no disabilities would be a better candidate for keeping any type of pet. A person with special needs may need to consider the type of pet which is in line with their capabilities.
  • The age factor is important. A puppy or kitten would require too much attention, as well as an elderly pet. A middle-aged pet would be ideal. Birds are a good option due to their tendency to live longer.
  • Sometimes, a “therapy pet” is required for people who are infirm or impaired in a particular way. Therapy dogs are widely used in such scenarios.
  • The temperament of the pet also should be considered. Smaller and more docile pets tend to be an ideal choice.
  • As pets can carry diseases, it is important to check out the health factor as well, as you don’t want the elderly person catching diseases or allergies from the pet.
  • The financial factor can also play an important role. Some pets can cost a lot to buy, and even more to maintain, over time. There are several shelters that offer pets at reasonable rates and even free of cost. Many voluntary organizations also provide free pets or pets at subsidized rates. A smaller pet is usually cheaper to buy and maintain.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the advantages of keeping a pet for the elderly. Although there seem to be mostly benefits of keeping a pet for older persons, there is a downside as well. All people are not comfortable with pets. A person may have allergies to fur and so on, which may prove to be counterproductive. A younger pet may cause more damage than good, as the owner may find it difficult to keep up with the high energy levels of a younger pet.

Katherine Hillestad, a veterinarian sums it all up quite nicely by saying, “A new pet can stimulate someone to read up on an animal or breed, which can be very mentally stimulating and important at that age.”

Hence, on the advantages of keeping a pet for the elderly, one can conclude that this is generally a good thing, and the final effect can only be positive, however, the entire project needs to be approached in a carefully thought-out manner, for the elderly to get the maximum benefit.

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