Is a senior that you know aging in place but experiencing loneliness, sadness and ill health? Then Rx Rover, or a pet by a different name, might be just the thing needed to make the senior’s life healthier, happier – and longer.
Scientists have been noting the almost miraculous power of pets to improve physical and mental-emotional health. The effects are particularly strong on the elderly. Here are five reasons why getting a furry companion for a senior may be the best gift you can give.
- Pets help a person live longer
A Public Health Report by the National Institutes of Health cites scientific research showing that pet ownership helped people survive longer after discharge from a coronary care unit after a heart attack or angina. Deaths of non-pet owners within one year of discharge reached 28%, but only 6% of the pet owners died. All factors but pet ownership were ruled out, including the extra exercise, for example, that dog owners might experience. In fact, all pet owners experienced reduced death rates, including owners of cats.
- Pets reduce doctor visits and related expenses
Judith M. Siegel of the School of Public Health at the University of California in Los Angeles, studied the incidence of doctor visits by the elderly after stressful life events. Her one-year study showed that pet owners went to doctors less often than non-pet owners, even when other conditions like their specific health situation were controlled,.
Were they too busy taking care of their pets to see the doctor? Not at all, Siegel reported. For people without pets, stressful situations alone drive them to the doctor, whereas pet owners seem to be more able to take stress in stride with Lad or Tiger by their side.
- Pets offer companionship and make elderly people feel secure and loved
Three quarters of the pet owners told Siegel and other researchers that the companionship of their pets afforded them feelings of security and love—feelings that reduce stress and provide life satisfaction and happiness.
- Pets make elderly people smile and feel happier
Studies by Marion R. Banks and William A. Banks of St. Louis University have shown that even a visit from an animal only once a week helps decrease loneliness and its attendant distress in elderly patients who live in long-term care facilities. People encountering animals smile more, interact more with each other and feel better all around. Imagine what a pet at home may do!
- “If pet ownership was a medication, it would be patented tomorrow.”
So says Dr. Edward T. Creagan, an oncologist and professor at the Mayo Clinic and the American Cancer Society, and an advocate of the salutary effects of animals and pets on human health. He has been known to prescribe pets as comfort and support for cancer patients.
Speaking at a joint conference of Pawsitive Interaction, a non-profit federation of Atlanta animal advocates, and the Center on Aging at Emory University, Dr. Creagan said studies show that pets help their owners fend off depression, isolation, inactivity, and even high blood pressure, especially when under stress. The verdict seems clear: pets make for better and healthier aging in place.
Banks, Marion R. and Banks, William A. The effects of animal-assisted therapy on loneliness in an elderly population in long-term care facilities. Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 2002, 57(7), M428-432. DOI: 10.1093/gerona/57.7.M428.
Creagan, Edward R. Quoted in Pets and the Aging: Science Supports the Human-Animal Bond. White paper by Pawsitive Interaction, 2003, developed from a joint summit at Emory University with the Emory Center on Aging. Retrieved from http://www.pawsitiveinteraction.com/pdf/White_paper-10_16_03.pdf.
Friedmann, Erika, Katcher, Aaron Honori, Lynch, James J., Thomas, Sue Ann. Animal Companions and One-Year Survival of Patients after Discharge from a Coronary Care Unit. Public Health Rep. 1980 Jul-Aug; 95(4): 307–312. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1422527/pdf/pubhealthrep00128-0003.pdf.
Seigel, Judith M. Stressful Life Events and Use of Physician Services Among the Elderly: The Moderating Role of Pet Ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, The American Psychological Association, Inc., 1990, (58)6, 1081-1086.