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Elders and Pets

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 09:07 -- Pete Aarssen

The 2016 Census Canada data is out. Among the discoveries not often spoken about is the number of elders aging while living alone.

What is the good news? 92.1 percent of those aged 65 and older live in private homes and dwellings, unchanged from the previous census. Independence is still being enjoyed by most aging Canadians. Here is the other half of the story. At age 65, one third of all women are living alone compared with about 17.5 percent of all men. The rate of those living alone increases with age; by age 85 more than 21 percent of men live alone while 41.1 percent of women do. Wow! My mother and mother-in-law are among the group of elders living alone; one due to the death of her spouse, and one due to her spouse needing convalescence in a care facility. In both cases however, it is remarkable how much better the two of them are doing, thriving actually due to the addition of a pet in their lives!

No one likes to live alone, if they tell you they do, they’re bluffing! While some elders do just fine living alone, the great majority do better with human and/or animal company!

I happened upon some great reasons why the elderly can benefit from having pets in their lives published by Care.com, necessarily abbreviated.

1. Promote Increased Physical Activity
Numerous studies have found that people of all ages who care for pets tend to be more active.

2. Provide Emotional Support
When people age, they many times feel unappreciated, disregarded or left behind. Pets can help an elderly person know that they still matter — a lot.

3. Boost Cardiovascular Health
People who care for pets often have lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol levels and better heart health. Research says that heart attack patients are four times less likely to die if they have a dog.

4. Offer Companionship
As the elderly suffer the loss of a spouse or the loss of friends, they can experience a painful void. Having a pet can help fill this void — and help social interactions with other people.

5. Help with Weight Control
Participating in physical activity with a dog, cat or other pet is not only fun, but it also helps keep weight in check for both humans and pets.

6. Calm Emotions
Sadly, some elderly people get very few hugs and seldom are blessed with the emotionally healing power of a human touch.

Another report offering similarly positive news about pets and elders, published in 2008 by the Humane Society of Canada, cites a 1999 Australian study reported by Petnet Australia. It found that:

  • People who own pets typically visit the doctor less often and use less medication
  • Pet owners, on average, have lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure
  • Pet owners recover more quickly from illness and surgery
  • Pet owners deal better with stressful situations
  • Pet owners are less likely to report feeling lonely

Cancare summarized their findings by saying that “...pets are profoundly therapeutic in every sense of the word, and thus they almost always enhance the overall well-being of their owners. As long as a senior is physically able to care for pets, they are certain to enrich his or her life considerably.”

At the care facility where my father-in-law resides, pets are more than welcome and can often be seen walking the halls of the building bringing a welcome distraction and joy to the residents.

I for one can attest to the positive experiences owning a pet can bring and I encourage anyone to consider seriously whether a pet for their aged loved ones might be prudent, especially if that elder lives alone.

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