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Why Pets Are Good For Seniors

Research says pets for seniors can decrease cortisol levels and more.

Many seniors experience mobility limitations, cognitive decline and other health conditions which can increase the risk of isolation and social withdrawal. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-fourth of adults age 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Older adults are also more exposed to certain risk factors of isolation such as living alone, losing family members and friends and experiencing chronic illnesses and other diseases. While there are a variety of solutions to combat social isolation, pet companionship has proven to be especially beneficial for seniors. Those who are exposed to consistent interactions with pets, such as pet therapy, and those who have pets of their own reduce their risk of anxiety and depression and are more likely to improve overall wellness. Owning a pet has also been linked to a number of health benefits such as slower cognitive decline, reduced risk of stress and a more robust social life. 

Pets and Brain Health 

A new study has found that owning a pet can actually help delay cognitive decline. In this study, researchers used cognitive tests to a develop a composite cognitive score for all participants. Over six years, researchers found that cognitive scores decreased at a slower rate in pet owners. A contributing factor for these findings is the toll of stress on the brain. Stress can negatively affect cognitive function, especially when we experience long-term stress. According to the National Institutes of Health, “interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure.” CNN reports that owning a household pet for five years or more produced the greatest benefit. Owning a pet nurtures a brain-healthy lifestyle by encouraging cognitive engagement, socialization, physical activity and provides individuals with a sense of purpose that they may not have had before owning their furry friend. 

Benefits of Pet Ownership for Older Adults 

There are so many benefits to owning a pet—beside the obvious ones of unconditional love and constant companionship. In addition to improving brain health, pets have the power to drastically improve one’s physical and emotional health. Here are a few ways your pet might be impacting your life and your health without even knowing it:

  • Promotes a healthier lifestyle. As we get older, it can become easier and more comfortable to lead a sedentary lifestyle. However, owning a pet forces you to engage in physical activity, such as going for daily walks. Even low intensity walks can improve heart health, lower blood pressure, and relieve stress.
  • Encourages social interaction. Social isolation can have a profound negative affect on older adults. However, pet ownership gives individuals opportunities to connect with other pet owners. A visit to the dog park or training classes allow individuals with similar interests to come together and build a network of social support and opportunity. Owning a pet is a great conversation starter and an easy way to find common ground with others.
  • Helps establish a daily routine. Routines can be important for older adults, especially for those who are experiencing cognitive decline. Pets need schedules. Walking and feeding our dogs can help give structure to our own days. Focusing on something other than ourselves can also help give our lives purpose and provide something special to look forward to each day.
  • Reduces recovery time. Optimism and a positive attitude play important roles in the recovery process after illness or injury. Pets are especially effective at boosting our mood and lifting spirits. In fact, a study conducted by the University of Michigan found that more than 70 percent of participants who reported being in fair or poor health said their pets help them cope with physical and emotional pain, while 46 percent said their pets help distract them from their pain.

How to Choose the Best Pet For Seniors

There are a few things to consider before committing to pet ownership. Maintaining a healthy pet takes time, resources and a lot of patience. Before you adopt your furry friend, you may consider the following questions from AgingCare to help you navigate the decision-making process:

  • Is the pet healthy? Before you complete the adoption process, make sure to have the pet examined by a veterinarian. Pets with medical issues can be difficult to care for, both financially and emotionally.
  • Are finances an issue? Caring for a pet takes time and financial resources. Keeping your pet up-to-date on vaccinations, purchasing food and toys, and unexpected medical care can get expensive quickly. Be sure to consider your budget before adopting a pet.
  •  Is there a backup plan in place? Before adoption, make sure you have someone who can care for your pet in the case of an emergency such as a hospital stay or long-term injury. In addition, it’s important to think about what would happen to your pet if they outlive you. Make sure to discuss these plans with those you’d like to involve in your pet’s care.   

If you’re still interested in adopting or purchasing a pet, there are many ways to find your perfect match. Breeders are often a good source but adopting from a shelter is much less expensive and helps house a dog who really needs a caring home. Petfinder.com allows individuals to search their area for shelters and rescues for adoptable animals. 

Furry Friends at Maplewood Senior Living 

Our communities at Maplewood Senior Living are pet friendly! We offer opportunities for pet exposure to those who are unable to have a pet of their own and encourage residents to bring their furry friends with them as they prepare for a move into one of our communities. For more information or to schedule a tour, please contact us today.


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1 Gorham Island Rd

Westport, CT 06880


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