Social Isolation is becoming an increasingly common issue, with 1 in 5 Americans reporting they feel lonely. Sadly, seniors are especially vulnerable to these feelings. In fact, 43 percent say they experience loneliness regularly. A new survey1 of adults age 65 and older by Home Instead, Inc. found regular interaction with animals can help to reduce these feelings of isolation and loneliness.
While there are many benefits to owning or interacting with a pet later in life, Home Instead found that unconditional love is the number one perk of pet ownership, followed closely by company and comfort. Nearly half of pet owners also cited stress relief, sense of purpose and exercise as leading advantages.
“Pets play a meaningful role in our lives at any age, but can be especially beneficial for older adults by providing constant friendship, easing anxiety and encouraging daily exercise and engagement,” said Lakelyn Hogan, Home Instead Senior Care® gerontologist and caregiver advocate. “While owning a pet full time isn’t an option for everyone, there are many other ways to interact with animals without taking on the additional responsibilities and commitment.”
In fact, survey results indicate that older adults are able to gain the same positive feelings when spending time with animals in other capacities such as visiting with pets owned by family, friends or neighbors. Several businesses allow visitors to interact with pets including community animal shelters, pet-friendly restaurants or local parks. This interaction is especially important, as it also provides the opportunity to socialize with other people, further reducing feelings of loneliness.
According to Steve Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), a nonprofit research and education organization, spending time with pets in one capacity or another also can have surprisingly positive impacts on overall physical health.
“There’s a strong connection between heart health and pet ownership or interaction,” he said. “Pet owners are more likely to get recommended levels of exercise, have lower blood pressure and experience reduced levels of stress. Pets have even been shown to aid in recovery after a heart attack.”
“Research also shows animal interaction can help perceptions of pain and discomfort, and improve motivation for treatment protocols for diseases such as cancer by helping individuals feel more focused and positive moving forward,” added Elisabeth Van Every, communications and outreach coordinator for Pet Partners, a nonprofit North American therapy animal organization. “Even interactions as short as a half hour a week can make a difference.”
In addition to providing positive health benefits, pets can also provide constant companionship for seniors who would prefer to age in place. In fact, 82 percent of senior animal owners surveyed said they would not consider moving to a senior living community without their pet.
To help older adults determine what type of pet interaction is right for them, the Home Instead Senior Care network is offering free resources and tips to help seniors incorporate animals into their lives.
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