Decline in physical health in older age is often recognized quickly. Unfortunately, we often underestimate the mental health of a senior. Your loved one is prone to feel a deep loneliness, especially when their closest friends have passed and when their adult children don’t visit as often as they used to. However, there is one source of comfort that brings a tremendous amount of warmth and joy to a senior’s life – having a pet.
Benefits of pets for the elderly
Animals are excellent companions for an elderly person. Numerous studies confirm that having a cat or a dog has a beneficial effect on the health and well-being of seniors. It alleviates the symptoms of depression and loneliness.
The positive influence of animals on the human psyche was noticed in the 19th century. American psychologists first used dogs for therapeutic reasons. Currently, animal-assisted therapy is widely described in scientific literature as a great source of comfort.
In addition to relieving loneliness by providing companionship, other benefits of pets for the elderly include:
- Lowering blood pressure – the most common cause of death in the world is cardiovascular disease. Petting a cat or a dog will relax the senior, thereby lowering his blood pressure. Long-term contact with a furry friend will alleviate anxiety (by promoting the release of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin) and significantly reduce stress or the risk of a heart attack.
- Providing a sense of purpose and structure in everyday life – having a living creature in your home whose fate depends solely on you is a reason to remain independent as long as possible.
- Increasing the physical activity of an elderly person – it is impossible to maintain a healthy lifestyle without an appropriate dose of exercise. An older person is much more likely to go for a walk if he has a furry companion with him.
- Reducing verbal aggression and anxiety in people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia – the elderly with neurodegenerative diseases will benefit having a pet. Petting the animals will minimize anxiety, signs of aggression and will significantly improve the quality of the senior’s life.
Best pets for the elderly – how to find them
We can’t forget that having a furry friend is a responsibility. Firstly, introduce the idea to the older relative. Present the undeniable advantages of pet ownership and talk about them. Getting a dog or a cat shouldn’t be a surprise as your loved one may be confused and caught off guard.
There are also some factors to be considered prior to getting a pet. The most important being the health of a senior. Certain dog breeds can be challenging for a person with limited mobility. However, it doesn’t mean that wheelchair-bound or disabled seniors can’t have a pet – lower-maintenance animals like cats and birds may be preferable.
Take into consideration the preferences of your loved one. Have they had a pet before? Are they a dog or a cat person? If a senior is afraid of change, they may not be the best candidate for owning an animal. The age of a pet is also crucial as a puppy or kitten require intensive training and a lot of attention.
A list of best pets for the elderly
- Dog – a man’s best friend has to be number one on a list of best pets for the elderly. They are lovable, loyal and intelligent and will be a great companion for almost everyone. Additionally, you can choose which temperament would be a good fit for the senior. Different dog breeds have unique personalities. For example getting a very energetic dog (Jack Russell Terrier or Border Collie) which requires a lot of daily excise is not a best idea. Look for calm, easily trained and adaptable pet. Breeds like Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, French Bulldog, Pug or Shih Tzu are gentle, affectionate and happiest when snuggled up beside its owner.
- Cat – those loveable fur balls are independent and have no problem staying alone at home for hours. That makes them low maintenance and easy to care for. Typically, female cats are more affectionate. They like to cuddle making them the perfect companion for elders.
- Fish or birds – the Elderly won’t be able to pet them, but fish and birds will still provide the sense of comfort. Aquarium can relive stress and be soothing for seniors, who like to watch beautiful colours and smooth swimming motions.