old man driving a car with dog passenger

How Pets Contribute to the Mental Health of the Elderly

People approaching old age are more susceptible to health issues as their body doesn’t function as well as it did in their younger years. Along with organ health becoming more of a concern as people age, mental health is also susceptible to deterioration. This is even exacerbated by major changes in their routine, especially upon retirement.

While working, they had to constantly tend to themselves, stay in tip-top shape, and take care of various personal and professional responsibilities. No one ever is completely prepared for a lifestyle that subdues all activity, especially social ones. At one point, too, they have to witness the loss of loved ones one after the other. And so, feelings of loneliness are common among the elderly. This has been going on even before massive pandemic lockdowns when they have to stay isolated as they are more at risk of getting severe infections.

We may look at its emotional, surface-level only, but loneliness has detrimental effects on their mental wellbeing. This usually explains why many of them succumb to illnesses like depression and anxiety. When not given ample attention, especially during insurmountable stress like the one caused by the pandemic, it could be a gateway for memory loss and dementia, among other health complications.

One proven way to help them ease feeling deprived of social interaction is pets. People, regardless of age, immediately light up at the sight of adorable pets. Without them knowing it, their cute stares and gestures are enough to make humans melt (figuratively). Trained puppies or dogs can satiate their master’s longing for companionship. But, there’s more than meets the eye as having these friendly fellas around can improve our lives and, more so, that of our seniors in more ways than we think:

pug on a couch

Physical Health

Firstly, pets need to be regularly taken out for a walk. Those who have neglected physical activity and keeping up with a healthy daily routine when they get a pet will be urged to get out and move their limbs. A simple walk, combined with picking up sticks for the dog to fetch and cleaning up poop, is already a good workout.

This moderate exercise improves their heart health, blood circulation, mobility, and metabolism and prevents bone health deterioration and risks of weight and blood sugar-related issues. Aside from that, walking their pet allows them a healthy exposure to fresh air and natural light, which boosts their immune system making them less vulnerable to diseases.

The benefits of having a pet are even more impressive for those who have had a history of heart attacks. As proven by the American Heart Association, seniors who own pets have more stable blood pressure and heart rate than those who don’t. Moreover, seniors who underwent a surgical procedure and proceeded with pet therapy have found themselves in less need of taking pain relievers. The comfort these pets give, therefore, helps speed up recovery from heart ailments or surgery.

Mental Health

Pets are mood boosters. Scientific studies explain that making eye contact with pets, especially dogs, triggers in us the release of the so-called love hormone oxytocin. This could be further explained by mammals’ innate tendency to care for another living creature. A dog stares at you to signal their dependence and, most of the time, out of affection, so the feeling is mutual. As such, they make for good companions that cheer you up.

On the other hand, having pets around is scientifically proven to reduce cortisol levels or the stress hormone that directly relates to depression, anxiety, and even self-confidence problems. Simply caressing their soft fur is enough to relax us after bouts of stress. Moreover, the responsibilities of owning a pet warrant following a routine to provide all their needs. In turn, this gives seniors, especially those suffering from anxiety or even stress caused by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, a sense of familiarity, predictability, and control, hence keeping them from getting stressed.

There’s no wonder there’s such a thing as animal therapy. Pets are rather empathetic and, when you feel alone and sad, they’ll instantly console you by rubbing their head against you and keeping you company. The sight of them curled up or playing beside you naturally makes us feel good.

People who’ve never had pets and still have a hesitancy towards having one can learn more about its benefits that encompass both their physical and mental well-being. Perhaps, this could also convince them to get one for their elderly loved ones, who, for current circumstances, they cannot attend to most of the time. Overall, pets are proven to help humans stay healthy and live longer.

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