For many seniors, it can be hard to stay socially active, especially during a pandemic. The inability to be socially active has caused many seniors to feel extremely lonely, which can have negative side-effects on their mental health. As a result, many seniors have turned to animal companionship to fill the gap.
Here are a few reasons why you may want to consider bringing a pet into your home, as well as ways to ensure you can take care of your pet in the long-term:
Pets Improve Your Physical Health
Seniors having a pet can help reduce stress and lower blood pressure, and the calming act of petting a cat can help to reduce the stress hormone, cortisol. Walking your dog gives you an excuse to exercise, which helps your body release endorphins, a natural painkiller that also triggers feelings of happiness.
Walking your dog also increases your chance of interacting with neighbors, keeping you socially active as well. Many retirement homes are pet friendly, so taking your dog out for a walk means your pooch might make a new friend as you get to know your fellow residents.
If you’re looking for a pet to improve your physical health, be sure to choose a pet that you are physically able to handle. An older animal may suit your needs better; they tend to know what kinds of behaviors are acceptable and don’t tend to have a lot of energy that needs to be burned off. As a bonus, senior animals are usually offered at animal shelters for a lower price.
Pets Improve Your Mental Health
The mere act of taking care of another living being has been shown to release endorphins, and that includes taking care of a pet. This makes their benefit on your mental health two-fold: not only are they providing you with companionship, but they’re also helping your body to release chemicals that keep you happy.
There’s also an intangible but important mental health benefit that having a pet brings: mindfulness. Mindfulness, or the ability to stay in the present moment, can help manage pain and decrease stress. Dogs seem to have a special ability to keep owners mindful. Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, states that “Dogs are very present.
If someone is struggling with something, they know how to sit there and be loving.” While the exact hows and whys are still being researched, what researchers have observed has established a clear link between animal companionship and improved mental health.
Not Ready for A Pet? Try Pet Therapy
You may not feel like you’re ready for a pet, and that’s okay. You can still reap the rewards of being around a pet through pet therapy. Pet therapy allows you to enjoy the company of an animal, without worrying about having to exercise, feed, or clean up after them. Many senior care communities offer pet therapy as a way to keep residents from feeling lonely, and as a way to mitigate the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
If you’re a senior, consider the benefits a pet can bring to your life. The positive results may surprise you.