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Pets & the Elderly: A Mutually Beneficial Companionship

October 10, 2015, 00:48 AM

As people get older, being social becomes more difficult; children get married, grandchildren visit infrequently, and friends move or pass away. Getting a pet is a great way for seniors to overcome their loneliness and to add a sense of joy to their everyday lives.

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by Jacey O Samsel via flickr

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by Jacey O Samsel via flickr

What Are the Benefits of Having a Pet?

  1. Companionship – This benefit cannot be underestimated – research has shown that elderly people crave companionship just like they crave basic necessities of life, like food and sleep. So having a pet that offers companionship and, in many cases, affection can make a huge difference in their lives.
  2. Helps ease depression – One cause of depression in the elderly is loneliness. Having a pet alleviates this loneliness and reduces the chances of becoming depressed.
  3. Routine – Having a dog, or any other pet for that matter, gives the gift of routine. In the morning, you wake up, walk the pet (if applicable), feed the pet, tidy up after the pet – these mundane things probably don’t sound too exciting to young and middle-aged adults, but for seniors, having a routine provides a sense of security and calm. Another benefit is that routines can also improve quality of sleep.
  4. A sense of purpose – Taking care of a pet gives a sense of purpose to a senior’s life; for some, it can even be a reason for getting up in the morning. Feeling like you contribute to the world is great motivation for carrying on, and also connected with warding off depression.

Which Pets Are Suitable for Seniors?

The type of pet seniors should choose is one that realistically meets their lifestyle needs and preferences. For example, if your grandmother is a dog person, she might not want to even think about getting a cat. On the other hand, even if she is a dog person, she needs to make sure that she will be able to properly care for the dog.

For example, dogs need to be walked. If this is beyond the scope of your grandmother’s capabilities, she can think of other options like having a neighbor walk the dog so that she will still enjoy the companionship, or looking into other pets that offer similar companionship without the high maintenance factor.

What Factors Should Seniors Take Into Account When Choosing a Pet?

  • Behavior – Make sure the pet has a good disposition (you want a happy dog, not a mean-natured dog).
  • Age – Young pets who need training are not a great option for seniors – pets that have already been trained (and are responsive) are a much better choice.
  • Health – Elderly people have enough to do taking care of their own health! They don’t need a dog or cat who needs constant vet appointments.
  • Finances – Seniors should make sure they have enough savings to finance a pet. It might not seem like much of an expense, but all that kibble/cat food and monthly worm medication does add up.

Pets Are Not For Everyone

Sometimes, having a pet can lead to stressful or even dangerous situations. That’s why we caution seniors to check with their homecare providers to make sure that having a pet is the right move for their situations. If homecare providers can provider help care for the pets, that’s an added bonus!

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