We’ve all heard the rather dated expression that a dog is a man’s best friend, but did you know that a pet could be an elderly person’s lifeline?
Having a pet provides different advantages to different people. Companionship is usually top of the list, but to an elderly person, this extends much more than one can sometimes imagine. Many older people live by themselves, and these days improved communications and ease of local and global travel means that many more now older generations live far away from their families or friends.
Older people are much more susceptible to a number of health issues that rarely apply to younger adults or even children. These include dealing frequently with grief and loss, reduced activity, high incidence of depression, and their personal security feeling more threatened. But the good news is that there is treatment available for all these conditions that doesn’t even need a prescription. As you’ve probably guessed by now, it’s called pet ownership.
It is now widely acknowledged that pets can positively benefit the well-being of their elderly owners; the most serious disease for older persons is not cancer or heart disease – it’s actually loneliness. Isolation is one of the worst downfalls of getting older in our society. For many elderly people living on their own, their pets can be their only reason for living.
Pets will offer both uncomplicated affection and unconditional love; they will help to combat loneliness, and can even help to ease the loss of a loved one. They are constant companions, on hand 24/7, comforting, listening and protecting their owners; not only from outside threats, but also offering the more subtle form of protection from loneliness and despair. Pets transform the ‘cared for’ patient into a ‘caring for’ owner, allowing nurturing and a vital sense of self-esteem, independence and social importance.
Pets are warm and intensely loyal. Non-judgmental, they boost morale and help reduce stress by providing much-needed emotional security; also providing a fixed routine that can include grooming, feeding, playing and in some cases exercise. Pets have the ability to bring happiness and laughter and lift depression. Much needed communication with other people is often easier when a pet is present for reassurance, and for this reason they are even labeled ‘social catalysts’.
But what type animal is most suitable? Well this all depends on the health and accommodation of the patient. Sadly, some care homes still don’t allow pets, but for the growing numbers that do, dogs and cats are frequently the most popular.
Species, cost and size are also issues. For example, small dogs and cats will require less exercise, but seniors used to larger dogs may prefer the company of a retired greyhound who, contrary to popular belief, don’t actually require much exercise at all.
Whenever considering a pet for an old person, always contact your local rescue centre first, as the perfect match is usually ready and waiting.