Health
November 14, 2019
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Pets and seniors make the perfect pair

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
September 27, 2019

 What if you could experience lower blood pressure, pain reduction, less loneliness and more happiness? According to reports, these can be the positive outcomes for seniors who regularly interact with pets.

From experiencing a therapy animal visit to having a pampered pet of your own, reports show connecting with pets can be good for seniors.  Animal interaction provides meaningful connection for lonely seniors.

The pets that are part of older adults’ lives can’t talk back, unless they’re chatty parrots. Nonetheless, animals may provide seniors a level of companionship that could help ease lonely days and nights. Research, experts and an abundance of heartwarming stories throughout North America confirm the meaningful connection between animals and older adults.

Simply put, interaction with a much-loved pet – whether it’s a cat, dog, fish, bird or gerbil – is good for the mind, body and soul. On the other hand, lack of companionship and social support can lead to isolation, which might jeopardize an older adult’s mental, physical and emotional health.

“There’s a strong connection between heart health and pet ownership or human-animal interaction, which encompasses animal-assisted activities like animal-assisted therapy,” said Steve Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), a non-profit research and education organization, which gathers, funds and shares scientific research that demonstrates the positive health effects of companion animals. “Pet owners are more likely to get exercise, which could lead to lower blood pressure and lower stress levels,” he said.

“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.

Through this North American non-profit organization, teams of therapy animals accompanied by their owners go into local communities to help seniors in hospitals, care communities of all kinds and hospice settings.

“Animals alleviate feelings of loneliness – even a half hour visits a week can make a difference,” she added.

“I have seen older adults positively impacted by interactions with their pets,” said Lakelyn Hogan, Home Instead Senior Care® gerontologist and caregiver advocate. “For many, their pets provide a source of comfort and help to keep the client at ease or reduce their anxiety. Pets also act as a companion and constant friend.”

Pets impact housing decisions

The importance of animals to older adults shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact, 70 percent of seniors who are pet owners say their pet is a factor in deciding where to age, according to a survey of North Americans 65 and older conducted by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care network.

“It does not surprise me that pets are a deciding factor in where an older adult will live because pets become like family to people of all ages,” Home Instead’s Hogan said. “If there is a desire to keep the pet at home, you can consider hiring help in the home to assist with pet care. Home Instead professional CAREGivers help keep clients in their private homes or senior living facilities with beloved family pets. “

Family caregivers also may benefit from the pet in a senior’s life, Feldman added. “Statistics reveal the majority of people say that pets are an important member of the family. It can be a bonus for family caregivers to visit the animal when they’re seeing their loved one. They should acknowledge that the pet is a member of the family and show respect for that relationship. For example, say to the senior: ‘I see how important your pet is to you.’ How people react to someone’s pet often influences how that person reacts to them.”

Seniors in various settings reap rewards from pet interactions, noted Pet Partners’ Van Every. “Many animal-handler teams choose senior locations such as hospitals, hospice, general care facilities or any place seniors might be gathering or receiving care. Care communities can request a team. Teams get ideas where to go because they have family or friends who are receiving care. Many handlers are seniors themselves. Teams want to bring something comforting and uplifting to seniors feeling isolated or dealing with the daily grind of medical appointments. Teams also provide seniors with the opportunity to interact with pets regularly if they’ve had to leave their pets behind at home. Many times, therapy animals will provide an opportunity for residents to come together,” Van Every said.

“Our impression is that seniors who have limited mobility benefit very strongly from pet interaction, particularly if the animal can come to them if they are unable to go to a meeting room,” Van Every added. “They may have medical conditions and are undergoing treatments. These animals are non-judgmental. A cat or dog or rabbit isn’t going to ask an older adult if he or she enjoys being with them. That matters to people facing aging concerns, challenging treatments and the realization that their life is coming to an end. That interaction can be meaningful.”

Locally you can learn more about how you or your aging loved one can engage with animals & enjoy all the benefits go online tohumanesocietysoco.org or phone 707-542-0882 and ask for Nina in Volunteer services for more info.

 

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern?  She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.