Freelance Contribution by Jason Lewis
It’s no secret that older people suffer with health issues more often than their 30-something counterparts. But what is surprising is the fact that animals can help with many of the most common ailments of the 65+ crowd.
Depression is depressingly common among senior citizens. Mental Health America points out that while depression is not a natural part of aging, seniors are at risk because of other factors that are. Sadly, depression is often undiagnosed in the elderly as it routinely co-occurs with the loss of a loved one and chronic health conditions, which are more common with age.
While having a dog is not a guaranteed cure for depression, there is mounting evidence to suggest that pets do relieve life’s lamentations. For one, having a dog or cat is a soothing presence from a living being that offers unconditional love and acceptance. Taking care of an animal provides a distraction and offers seniors the chance to feel needed once again.
Obesity is a major concern throughout the United States, and especially in the elderly who may not have the physical abilities required to properly exercise or the financial means to provide for themselves an array of healthy and nutritious meals. According to Comfort Keepers, obesity can also exacerbate physical disabilities, affect joint, and cause problems with mobility.
There is no doubt that people who own a pet are more active. Between walks and fetch sessions in the backyard, pets keep people on their toes. For seniors who have not yet lost their mobility but are struggling with weight concerns, a dog can encourage regular treks to the dog park or dog-friendly walking trail for a bit of sunshine, exercise, and fresh air. Scout out the one nearest to you by using a site like Rover.com, which lists dog parks by city. Here are a few examples: San Jose, Portland, Knoxville, Madison, Indianapolis, Albuquerque, Miami, Calgary, Raleigh and Saint Paul.
- Mobility issues
There are numerous factors that affect the senior’s ability to maneuver themselves in- and outdoors. According to the National Institutes of Health, mobility issues often stem from illness-related immobility, such as being admitted into the hospital for an extended period.
Dogs and cats will help seniors stay active, which will not only promote weight loss but long walks can also help strengthen lower extremities and improve overall balance and coordination. Furthermore, owning a pet can help improve a senior’s heart rate and blood pressure, reducing his or her chances of experiencing dizziness upon standing.
- Cognitive impairment
Up to 20% of adults age 65 and older present with symptoms that indicate mild cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment is that which affects memory or other thinking skills. Its causes are not completely understood but risk factors are similar as those for dementia: family history of Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, and advancing age.
Dogs force a routine, which is a good thing for people with early dementia or other cognitive issues. According to US News & World Report, the “routine of caring for pet give structure and purpose to daily life.”
- Physical injuries
Falling is one of the most common physical injuries among the elderly population. Many older people have spatial issues that make navigating obstacles difficult. Walking up stairs or avoiding low-lying furniture can become a real problem. Sadly, fewer than half of older patients admit to their healthcare providers when they have an accident. Ostensibly, this is due to fear of losing their independence or feelings of inadequacy related to their frail physical state.
Having a dog or cat won’t prevent injuries, but it can speed the recovery process and help an injured senior manage pain. Experts have long noted the correlation between humans and pets and overall health and wellbeing. Animal Assisted Therapy is used all over the world to help with issues such as fibromyalgia and chronic pain.
Seniors should consider their health, financial abilities to provide food and veterinary care, and breed before taking the plunge into pet ownership. Dogs and cats are a lifelong commitment but one that, especially for seniors, can improve the quality of that life and encourage healthy habits.