If your doctor told you she had a medication that would help lower your blood pressure, reduce your risk of depression, suppress stress hormone levels, boost serotonin, and help prevent heart disease, would you consider taking it? Believe it or not, all of these health benefits don’t come from one magic pill; they’ve all been identified as some of the positive effects of pet ownership! For seniors, who are often the population most threatened by these very health issues, it makes sense that owning a pet or being around one can be especially beneficial.
Because of the care aspect involved, it’s important to consider the specific needs of a pet, in tandem with the physical and emotional capability of their potential senior owner, before moving ahead with an adoption or purchase – especially if that senior is living alone. At LCB, because we have several seniors in our communities who are pet owners, we’ve witnessed first-hand the huge boost these animals give to the physical and emotional health of all residents around them. We asked staff members and residents to help describe how having a pet around enhances their overall wellbeing, and they came up with an impressive list of factors:
- Mood Elevation: “It’s amazing to see the joy on our residents’ faces when they see one of the dogs walk in,” says Residence at Riverbend Resident Engagement Assistant Mary Elkin. “In many cases, these companion animals remind our residents of their own pets, now long gone, and the love and happiness they shared over the years.” Community Sales and Marketing Director Sue Cooke says that guests to LCB communities often remark that having pets around makes the atmosphere “feel like home.”
Residence at Riverbend resident Joyce enjoys the spring sun with her dog, Maggie
- Community Building: Often, our resident pets bring people together to share a common purpose, even acting like an icebreaker to encourage social interaction. “Our residents will often stop what they are doing and go over to pat and speak to the dogs, and that starts a conversation” says Elkin. “Many carry around bones so when they interact with the animals they can share a special treat.” Elkin says that community members will also join in to help with pet care when necessary, treating their neighbor’s pet like their own.
- Health Benefits: We’ve spoken of pet ownership being linked with lowered risk of heart disease. Pets living at LCB communities give our residents more reasons to stay active, whether it’s getting together outside for a dog walk, or playing ball toss after lunch.
Residence at Riverbend residents Ed Haraden and Connie Law with Molly
And pets like Molly bring cognitive benefits as well, helping to stimulate residents’ happy memories of their own beloved pets from years gone by.
- Comfort and Companionship: Studies have shown that even just being around domesticated animals can reduce feelings of loneliness in seniors, and our staff sees that in action every day. “The love and companionship our pets provide is priceless,” says Mary Elkin. Executive Director Pam Simpson adds that having pets in our residences is “like having Pet Therapy available anytime you need it.” Perhaps resident Ed Haraden says it best: “My dog keeps me calm and gives me purpose. I see the smile she puts on the other residents’ faces, and it makes me very happy.”
Are you interested in pursuing pet ownership for yourself, or a senior you know? Pets for the Elderly is an excellent resource for animals pre-screened and especially suited for senior owners.