- Aging & Longevity
Why the Elderly Need Pets
A Personal Example
My grandmother is 80 years old, and she’s been battling lung cancer for the past few years now. Her husband died 15 years ago. She got a dog a few years after he died (when the cat that had been living with them passed away). That dog, Lindsey, died just a few months ago. And now my grandmother is on an antidepressant. She refuses to get another pet because the pain of losing Lindsey was just too great. And she’s worried that if she were to get a pet now she would die before it did, and she’s afraid no one would be able to take care of it in the way it would grow accustomed while she was alive.
I think she has a point there. My other grandmother had a dog when she died. And, while my parents tried to take care of her the best they knew how, she really didn’t get the same treatment she got at my grandmother’s house. She died a little while later. Or maybe she just died of a broken heart. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.
Still, because my grandmother refuses to get another pet, she’s missing out on so much love - and so many mental and physical health benefits. What benefits, specifically?
Best Dog Breeds for Older People
- Bichon Frise
- Boston Terrier
- Cocker Spaniel
- Lhasa Apso
- Miniature Poodle
- Shih Tzu
- Welsh Corgi
- Yorkshire Terrier
A Natural Antidepressant
One symptom of depression is feeling like you can’t get out of bed in the morning. And with a pet in the house you don’t have any choice (especially if you get a dog). You will have to get up and feed that animal.
Elderly people have spent their lives caring for their others, and they are often put in a very difficult position as they age. Their children have to start caring for them. Depending on their physical condition, they may even lose some of the independence they once had. A pet can give a person a sense of responsibility - a feeling that they are still needed as a worthwhile member of the human race. And service animals can even give older people back a little of the independence they have lost.
What's Your Favorite Pet?
A Great Stress Reliever and Heart Disease Preventer
Try staying stressed out when you have a purring cat on your lap. Go ahead. Try it. I dare you.
That’s one of the reasons I went through so much pet withdrawal when I was in college. Our dorms didn’t allow us to have pets. And college can be really stressful. Ok. Let’s face it. Life can be really stressful. Cigarettes and alcohol helped me feel better temporarily, but pet therapy is a much healthier way of coping with all the tension life’s events can cause within our bodies. It’s important to reduce psychological stress because it has been repeatedly linked to heart attacks and heart disease.
A 10-year study published by the University of Minnesota's Stroke Institute found that people who had a pet cat had a reduced risk of heart attack. This evidence corroborates what my own experience tells me. Cats can actually help you reduce your stress levels. The researchers also note that dog owners may not actually experience this same benefit simply because dogs demand more attention than cats and can actually increase your stress because of the increased demand.
An Ear to Listen
“No man is an island,” except apparently Paul Simon (but even he had Art Garfunkel). No one likes to be alone - at least not really alone for a very long time. And that’s what many elderly people are faced with - loneliness. Their children are grown and are busy with their own families. Their grandchildren are busy growing up and carving out their own place in the world. Despite even the best of intentions, often elderly family members get pushed to the side and all but forgotten. With no one to talk to, the elderly will withdraw further into themselves and will become even more depressed and anxious.
Pets provide an automatic ear. They will sit next to you (or in your lap) and listen as you pour out your soul to them. And even though they won’t be able to talk back to you in words you can understand, you know that they are listening by the way they look up into your eyes with their soulful gazes. And, really, sometimes all you need is an ear. There are times when you want to pour out your heart and not have anyone respond. Pets provide you with that, too.
Pets Are Life Savers
As I type these words, I’m sitting here on the couch with my cat curled up next to me. She has been with me through some incredibly difficult and incredibly wonderful life events. I can’t imagine ever living without a pet.
Pets are cheap therapists and therapy. They are special friends and family members. They are physical helpers and guides. Very simply put: pets are life savers, and they can be even more important for people who are nearing the end of their lives. I hope, eventually, that my grandmother will remember this and will get herself another animal companion.