Pets and the Elderly: Lowering Stress and Delivering Smiles
Animals play an important role in many people’s lives.
According to the American Pet Products Association, more than 71 million American households have a pet, and most people think of their pets as members of the family.
Some studies have found that people who have a pet have healthier hearts, stay home sick less often, make fewer visits to the doctor, get more exercise, and are less depressed. Aside from their important therapeutic roles in helping the elderly, animals are also valued as companions, which can certainly affect the quality of our lives thus, being beneficial to our health.
One study found that having your dog in the room lowered blood pressure better than taking a popular type of blood pressure medication (ACE inhibitor) when you are under stress.
I have been with animal rescue for more than 20 years and one of the most fascinating joys I have witnessed is the beautiful effect that pets have on the elderly. Touch stimulates the senses and the touch of soft silky fur to the hand most likely will stimulate the outcome of a smile!
I have witnessed this first hand when my 88-year-old father was placed into a rehab facility after a bad fall. He became depressed, immobile and would not eat. There was a doggie brigade visiting all of the patients for the holidays and my father has always loved big dogs. When the German shepherd and his owner walked into my father’s room, his eyes lit up and when he walked over to the bed my father pet the dog and he smiled and laughed with joy! That was the first time in two months that I had seen my father smile—but to hear his laugh was priceless!
Among elderly people, pet ownership might also be an important source of social support that enhances well-being. In nursing home settings, interaction with visiting dogs has led to more social behaviors, more interaction among residents, and less loneliness.
If research shows specific health benefits under specific circumstance can benefit more adults in health or assisted living facilities, then people’s exposure to animals should be encouraged. I am a firm believer of pets visiting nursing homes and based on my personal experiences, I have seen improvements in personality and excitement in the elderly come alive again!
If you have questions about Crossroads Hospice or are interested in volunteering with your pet, please call 1-888-564-3405 or visit our website.
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