How Pets Can Help Older Adults Who Live Alone

For many seniors who live alone, loneliness is a serious issue that affects their physical and mental well-being. According to the National Institute on Aging, feeling lonely and socially isolated can lead to a host of health issues, including depression, dementia and heart disease.

The McMaster Optimal Aging Portal says feeling like we’re alone in the world can be as detrimental to our health as smoking, obesity or lack of exercise. Over time, loneliness can even increase one’s risk of early death.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the impact of loneliness in older adults. Recommendations from the National Institute on Aging include staying in touch with friends and family — whether it’s in person, on the phone or via the internet — getting regular exercise and volunteering.

But perhaps their most exciting tip for overcoming feelings of isolation — especially if you love animals — is to adopt a pet.

A Sense of Purrr-pose

Researchers at the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, have identified what they call the cure to loneliness: having a sense of purpose.

Adopting a pet gives you just that. Pets need to be fed and provided fresh water. Cats need clean litter pans and dogs need daily walks. Then there are “chores” like cuddling, socializing and telling your pet how cute they are.

In a recent University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, nearly three-quarters of adults age 50 to 80 said owning a pet gave them a sense of purpose. Almost all respondents said their pets made them feel loved and increased their quality of life. Eighty percent said their furry friends reduced their overall stress levels.

Owning a pet can also lower our blood pressure, increase our activity levels and improve the well-being of people suffering from chronic diseases, according to the Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research journal. TIME magazine says pets can also help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety.

“Pet ownership for older people can be very beneficial by giving them something to love and care for, as well as a companion in the home, especially if they live alone,” Dr. Sonny Presnal, director of the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, told Modern Dog magazine.

Pet Ownership and Adoption Tips for Older Adults

When adopting a pet, it’s important to find a companion who is a good match for your needs and situation.

A big dog who loves to run and play may not be the best fit for people with decreased mobility and range of motion. Kittens and puppies are adorable, but they also require 24/7 attention.

One of the best ways to make a new friend, and potentially save a life, is to adopt an older cat or dog from a local shelter, recommends Modern Dog.

Older pets don’t require the constant training and attention of their younger counterparts. And, like humans, they’re often a bit more set in their ways. If an older pet is sweet and loving at the shelter, chances are they’ll be just as sweet and loving once they get settled in your home.

Some shelters also offer programs to encourage the adoption of older pets. For example, the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando’s Seniors for Seniors program waives the adoption fee for adults older than 60 who adopt a pet 6 years of age or older.

If you’re concerned that your mobility or driving situation may prevent you from having a pet, rest assured that there are likely plenty of mobile grooming and veterinary care providers in your area.

One more tip: If you live in an apartment or senior living community, it’s important to see if there are any rules regarding the size or breed of pets allowed before heading to the shelter.

Sonata Senior Living loves pets! To learn more about our pet policy, call a community near you today or schedule a visit →

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