Healing Benefits of Owning a Pet in the Senior Years

By , 9:00 am on

Pet ownership can be therapeutic for seniors. Conditions not relieved by medicine can often be tamed by an animal companion. Here are a few ways having a pet can enhance your loved one’s wellbeing.

Ease Dementia-Related Behavior

Pets have a calming presence that often soothes agitation associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Aggressive outbursts are less frequent. Since pets are non-threatening, they mollify paranoia. Friendly animals also promote interaction among socially withdrawn seniors. 

For a loved one with Alzheimer’s, try aquarium therapy. While watching vibrant fish in a tank, the sound, movement, and color may arouse appetite. Graceful swimming motions can curb your loved one’s tendency to pace, wander, and shout.

If your loved one needs assistance managing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or other health conditions, consider hiring a professional caregiver. Although it may be challenging to find a reliable, highly rated home care company, Mississauga, ON, families can turn to Home Care Assistance. Our respite and live-in caregivers are expertly trained to assist seniors with a wide array of important tasks, including cooking, bathing, light housekeeping, and exercise.

Soothe Anxiety

Gazing at pets activates the hormone oxytocin, which induces relaxation. Before operations, seniors who spend time with pets subsequently feel less tension. Animal interaction distracts seniors from worry by lowering the stress hormone cortisol.

Cure Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Pets help veterans heal from the emotional scars of war. Wounded Warriors Canada is an organization that trains and matches certified service dogs with Canadian military vets, alleviating the symptoms of PTSD such as nightmares and flashbacks.

Reduce Depression and Loneliness

A 2014 Vetstreet.com article describes the transforming effect of a dog on a hospitalized 73-year-old man who was depressed, had stopped eating, and was dying. His nurses knew the man had a Chihuahua at home and arranged for the pup to visit. Amazingly, upon seeing the animal, the man’s spirits lifted, and his health revived.

When your loved one feels needed and loved by an animal, his or her self-esteem may increase. Pet care also provides a sense of purpose.

Animal companionship can boost mood so antidepressant medication becomes unnecessary. Pet interaction releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine that promote happy feelings. 

A pet prescribed for a psychological purpose is termed an emotional support animal (ESA). The pet’s company can help relieve the mental and emotional burdens of daily tasks. The pet also enhance communication, physical function, and sleep. Examples of ESAs are cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs.

Companion Paws Canada is an organization that offers therapy pets. To receive one, seniors must first obtain a prescription for an ESA from a licensed mental health professional such as a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist. If your aging loved one rents an apartment, he or she must also get the landlord’s written permission. 

Apply for an ESA through the LifeLine Canada Foundation. After confirming eligibility, a therapy pet is matched with your loved one’s lifestyle and personality.

Interacting with professional caregivers can also help seniors relieve stress and enjoy a higher quality of life. For families living in Mississauga, ON, respite care can be a wonderful solution when their aging loved ones need companionship and socialization a few hours a week or just need minor assistance with daily household tasks. At Home Care Assistance, we thrive on helping seniors maintain their independence while living in the comfort of home.

Strengthen Immunity

A 2004 study published in Psychological Reports states that petting a dog increases levels of antibodies, including immunoglobulin A, which protect the body against infection. Pet ownership is associated with fewer doctor visits. When hospitalization is necessary, a senior with a dog or cat at home is likely to recover faster than someone who does not own a pet.

Relieve Pain

Oxytocin released through animal interaction eases fibromyalgia, muscle cramps, and headaches. Brain cells that produce oxytocin are linked to the brainstem and spinal cord, and stimulating these cells causes the pain-relieving hormone to circulate throughout the body. Oxytocin also has anti-inflammatory properties, expediting wound closure.

Increase Mobility

In 2004, the University of Victoria evaluated the relationship between dog ownership and physical activity. The study involved 351 adults, ages 20 to 80, living in the Capital Region District of Greater Victoria, British Columbia. Subjects were divided into two groups, residents who either owned or didn’t own dogs. All participants answered questions that assessed their level of physical activity.
Survey results showed that dog owners walked roughly twice as much as non-dog owners. The difference was a daily average of 43 minutes versus 24 minutes. The responsibility of dog walking spurs greater exercise frequency.

Prolong Independence 

Pets can help seniors sustain the ability to perform personal tasks. This was the finding of a year-long study of Canadian seniors, aged 65 to 80. Subjects were 1,054 residents living alone in Wellington County, Ontario. Participants replied to a questionnaire assessing their social activity, medical conditions, psychological wellbeing, and physical ability.

Survey analysis showed that the pet owners were more functional during the one-year period than non-pet owners. Those caring for animals stated that their pets gave them a sense of purpose and daily structure. The animals also helped them stay active, both physically and socially. Many of the pet owners who were age 80 and older reported better health status over the course of the year.

Aid Cardiovascular Health

For dog owners, regular walking lowers the risk of high cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and being overweight. Cat owners tend to have less hypertension than non-cat owners, due to the calming influence felines provide. Playing with a pet reduces stress, which also lowers blood pressure.

Protect Seniors with Mental Illness

A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is trained to divert a mentally ill person from accidents. For example, a dog can stop a disoriented senior from hazardous wandering. These dogs also provide physical support and balance and can remind seniors to take medication. In the case of over-medication, a PSD can alert another person. A trained dog can also turn on lights and retrieve objects. 

A PSD can counteract symptoms of panic disorder, anxiety disorder, major depression, bipolar disorder, dissociative identity, agoraphobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and mood disorder. 

To qualify for a PSD, your loved one must obtain a prescription from a licensed mental health professional, stating the dog is needed to help him or her live safely. Then, contact an organization that provides PSDs.

Enhance Recall

Giving your loved one a pet can summon memories of former animal companionship. Such remembrance helps seniors maintain brain function.

Sharpen Concentration

Meeting animal needs requires awareness and focus. Mental stimulation occurs when your loved one feeds, grooms, and communicates with an animal. Buying pet food and supplies also engages the mind.

Professional caregivers can also help seniors manage several age-related symptoms, retain a sense of independence, and maintain a high quality of life. If your senior loved one needs hourly or live-in care, Mississauga Home Care Assistance can help. Our caregivers can assist with exercise and mobility, prepare nutritious meals, provide timely medication reminders, and help with a wide array of other important daily tasks. To learn about our high-quality care plans for the elderly, contact us at (905) 337-1200.