For many older adults, living alone can cast a shadow of loneliness, impacting physical and mental well-being due to limited connections with family and friends. Fortunately, pets have healing powers that can help reduce the negative feelings of living alone. Whether you’re an older adult or a loved one considering getting a pet for seniors, discover the health benefits of pets for seniors and some considerations before welcoming a new member into the household.
Health Risks of Loneliness in Seniors
Loneliness — likened to the harm of smoking up to 15 cigarettes daily — can complicate health concerns or encourage unhealthy habits. Here are the possible risks of living alone:
- Unhealthy lifestyle: You’re more likely to neglect your health without social support from family and peers.
- Unbalanced diet: Loneliness can lead to decreased appetite and unhealthy eating practices.
- Stress: Feelings of isolation can trigger stress levels among older people.
- Cognitive decline: Persistent feelings of loneliness can increase the risk of cognitive decline as you age.
Benefits of Pets for Seniors
Around one-third of seniors live alone in the U.S. There are many reasons why older people should consider having an animal as a companion in their household. Discover the healing powers of pets for seniors.
1. Helps Reduce Feelings of Loneliness
It can be challenging not to feel lonely when living alone, making it difficult to find motivation to stay active. A pet is a reason to get up early in the morning. Knowing someone is relying on you for food, water and companionship helps eliminate feelings of sadness and depression.
2. Boost Focus and Memory Retention
Having a pet helps delay memory loss and boost verbal memory. The companionship pets provide for seniors helps keep negative thoughts at bay simply by providing a good distraction. It allows older people to remember the daily tasks necessary for caring for an animal, such as feeding, walking and playing.
3. Reduces Stress
Owning a pet can help decrease loneliness, anxiety and stress reactions. When older people bond with their pets, they feel they have someone to share their feelings with. Playing with an animal, giving them a bath and spending quality time together distracts you from negative thoughts and promotes relaxation.
4. Aids Mobility
When a loved one decides to age in place, it can be worrisome, as many houses lack features that aid with mobility issues. Older adults with limited movement can benefit from therapy dogs that assist in simple daily tasks. These pets can help you get something on the other side of the house and even assist in an emergency, such as a fall.
5. Helps Make New Friends
Owning a pet can help older adults make new friends and find a support system in the community. There are a lot of activities for pet owners, ranging from charitable events to local pet shows. Making new friends while living alone may be challenging, but a furry creature can be a great icebreaker.
6. Helps Establish a Routine
Another healing power of pets for seniors is a sense of independence. A pet gives you a reason to go for a walk and wake up early. Older adults may feel more motivated to stay active knowing they have a companion they can enjoy physical activities with. The routine of caring for an animal can structure daily life and provide a sense of purpose.
Best Pet Options for Seniors
Whether you’re an older adult or a loved one looking for the best pet, here are some options that are best for seniors living alone:
- Dog: A canine companion is man’s best friend for many reasons — they provide entertainment and companionship no matter what you do. Dogs also make exceptional pets for older adults who may need medical attention. They’re loyal, affectionate and protective.
- Cat: If you don’t have enough energy or strength to care for a dog, a feline will make a precious friend, too. Cats are often independent, quiet creatures, but you could always end up with one that’s especially cuddly.
- Fish: A fish could be a perfect low-maintenance pet, as setting up a small aquarium is quite accessible. It only takes regular feeding and maintaining a healthy environment for the fish to thrive.
- Bird: Some bird species require minimal care besides watering, feeding and keeping the cage clean. Finches and canaries are great options to enjoy lovely chirping sounds. Parrots and parakeets are highly social creatures that require more than basic care but are easily trainable.
Pet Ownership Tips for Older Adults
When owning a pet, finding the right match for your situation and needs is important. For instance, a big, highly sociable dog may not be the best fit for older people who live in a small apartment. Here are some considerations before buying or adopting a companion:
- Are you willing to adjust your routine? Taking care of a pet means significant changes in your day.
- What age would be best? A kitten or a puppy needs intensive care, which may not be the best pet for seniors with limited mobility.
- Will finances be an issue? Taking care of a pet requires a financial commitment. Be sure to consider your budget carefully before welcoming an animal home.
Ready to Take Care of a Pet Today?
If you think living alone is causing you or a loved one loneliness, maybe it’s time to get a pet. An animal’s companionship will surely provide health benefits and a wealth of joy that will last a lifetime.