Pets Provide Comfort and Companionship for Elderly

If your elder Mom or Dad is transitioning to long-term care adding a pet to the caregiving team can be a huge benefit for both your parent and the animal. Pets can be beneficial for older adults, no matter their health status, promoting quality of life both physically and emotionally.

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Pets Provide Comfort and Companionship for Elderly
5 Min Read May 20th, 2018 Updated:February 24th, 2023

Many people grow up with pets. Be it a dog, cat, hamster, or fish, that provides a family with loving companionship and loyalty that only a pet can offer. This doesn't go away as we age. A dog or cat can have a very positive impact on the lifestyle of an elderly family member and can become a key part of long-term health care.

Dr. Thomas Schweinberg, staff neuropsychologist for the Lindner Center of HOPE in Mason, Ohio, just outside Cincinnati, says older adults who interact with pets have a positive influence on their quality of life.

It has been well-established that pets have a therapeutic and often calming impact on people in general. However, there is also evidence that, for the elderly, owning and interacting with pets can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase social interaction, and increase physical activity.

Health Benefits with Pet Ownership

Schweinberg says these benefits are particularly helpful to the elderly, who often begin to limit their activities and increasingly withdraw from the interpersonal world around them. Additionally, interacting with pets provides the elderly with the opportunity to provide nurturing attention to another being.

Very often, older patients have long not been able to offer nurturance to others and instead have become merely the recipients of nurturing attention and treatment. Being able to provide such nurturance gives them a much-needed sense of purpose, as well as feeling the appreciation and love that their pets have for them. 

He says just being able to pet a dog and see its tail wag with delight and appreciation can provide such an indescribable sense of satisfaction and joy for a person in a long-term care situation, be it in their own home, assisted living, or a nursing home. These people are the ones who usually have difficulty finding joy in their everyday lives and can find joy and purpose by taking care of a pet.

Pets offer love and companionship. 

Veterinarians See How Pets Benefit Elderly

Dr. Michelle Radwanski, a well-known veterinarian at Argonne Animal Hospital in Lemont, Illinois, has seen firsthand the benefits of pets in her 18+ years of practice.

Radwanski says she became a veterinarian because of the influence her family dog had on her as she grew up. A Shih Tzu named Dusty lived to the age of 17 and was a true companion.

 She showed me unconditional love when other did not," she explains. "She was my best friend every single day and was always by my side. I was changed by this little five-pound dog and these same feelings are what I see when seniors decide to care for a pet.

Radwanski sees how pets bring joy back to their lives. They get to experience unconditional love and have a friend by them each day.

Animals improve our mood, improve our health and make us smile more.

Social Interaction and Well-Being

According to the National Institute on Aging, several research studies have shown a strong correlation between social interaction and health and well-being among older adults. Social isolation may have significant adverse effects on older adults. A dog or cat can help in this area. Dr. Radwanski says there is no need for anyone, especially a person 50+, to feel this way.

I believe there is a pet for everyone. Every pet has a place in a family, but it has to be a right fit.

Radwanski encourages a family to consider the person's ability to take care of the pet and their needs and limitations. She says older people with limitations can have difficulty providing the right care for a pet. 

There are several breeds that are better - Read more about which breeds are great at this on PetKeen.

For those with physical limitations, consider adopting an adult or senior cat that can be content just sitting on their lap for a majority of the day.

Exercising the pet can be as easy as using a laser pen. The cat can be stimulated and get that activity they need without major effort from the older person. If the older family member can walk, the process of walking a dog can be good for both the pet and the person. Radwanski suggests adopting an older dog that won't pull the person as they walk.

Families Should Consider Pet's Health as Well

Just as your older family member's health changes, so does the pet's health change. Radwanski says the animal's health needs also need to be part of the equation when placing a pet with your older family member. A local veterinarian or shelter can help you match your family member with a new animal friend.

Many studies have shown that people who live with animals have lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides, and lower cholesterol than those living without. Depression is also lessened. This can be a good match for both humans and animals.

I have seen how pets have changed people's lives. They give you a reason to live for every day. The allow you to keep a routine. They make you smile. They give you stories. They give you someone to care for.

Long-Term Care Facilities and Pets

Many assisted living facilities allow pets to live with the residents. Nursing homes allow visits for pets which cheers the residents. If a person is living at home while receiving extended care services, that dog or cat really becomes part of the caregiving team.

If you have an older family member who is transitioning to long-term care, consider a pet to be part of the caregiving team; both the pet and the family member will be better for it.

Hard to Dispute Benefits of Pet Ownership

Pets can provide a multitude of mental, emotional, and physical health benefits for older adults. Mentally, taking care of a pet can bring an increased sense of purpose and help combat loneliness. Many older adults can appreciate the fact that a pet loves them unconditionally, and it can help them to feel needed. 

On an emotional level, interacting with a pet can increase feelings of well-being and happiness. Physically, taking care of a pet can have many health benefits. Encouraging older family members to own a pet will help them improve their physical health by encouraging exercise and regular walks, as well as by engaging in more social interaction with pet owners. 

Plus, studies have even shown that having a pet can reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure, and even help to reduce cholesterol. 

Furthermore, tending to a pet can help to strengthen manual dexterity, balance, and coordination. Since animals provide unconditional love and companionship, they may be beneficial for older adults who want to stay healthy and happy.

There are several hobbies and activities that older people can take advantage of to stay active and engaged in life. Taking care of pets is one of twenty such activities that experts recommend. 

Ready for Retirement

Your older family members hopefully have planned well for their retirement, and you can support them as they age. How about you?

By the time you reach 50, you should have a thorough retirement plan thought out and financial stability that will support the plans you have made. Additionally, you should plan on how to prepare for long-term health care, such as researching and obtaining Long-Term Care Insurance.

It is also wise to plan for possible relocation and downsizing of your home once the kids are gone to account for the aging. Adopting a pet is also a great choice for both companionship and some health benefits as well. 

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About the Author

Linda Kople is a freelance writer with a personal family history in long-term care. She specializes in aging-related topics such as caregiving, health, and retirement planning. Her experiences and interests drive her to explore and write about the various aspects of aging and health issues.

LTC News Contributor Linda Kople

Linda Kople

Contributor since October 31st, 2017

Editor's Note

Caregiving is always hard on family members. Paid care drains savings and adversely impacts lifestyle. The question is what have you done to prepare for the financial costs and burdens of aging? Longevity requires an advance plan. Part of that plan should be Long-Term Care Insurance.

Given the likelihood that you will need help with daily living activities or supervision due to dementia, being properly prepared protects savings and promotes independence, helping you to avoid becoming dependent on your loved ones.

Most people indicate they never want to burden their adult children and their families when they get older and need long-term health care. Yet, few people have taken any action to avoid the many negative consequences declining health and aging can have on their families and finances.

As we age, we will eventually need help with basic daily tasks. Long-Term Care Insurance can provide access to quality care, improving your quality of life, even as your physical and cognitive health worsens.

Being Prepared

Therefore, it is vital to be prepared for the effects of aging, and to look into the benefits of Long-Term Care Insurance, to ensure access to your choice of quality care without burdening your loved ones or draining your savings. 

Having the tax-free resources to pay for quality care will make the aging process a more positive and easier experience for you and your family. You worked hard for the money you have saved for your retirement, don't risk all your savings without preparing for the costs and burden of aging and the consequences that long-term health care will place on your and your loved ones.

Affordable LTC Insurance is the solution many families will use to give the entire family peace of mind. Aging happens, and being prepared will allow you to enjoy your retirement with less worry.

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LTC NEWS has many tools and resources that can help you in your research as you prepare for your future retirement and plan for the costs and burdens of aging and declining health.

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