(Welcome to the weekly pet column of Pet Connection Programs Inc. of Marilla, N.Y. A new article is posted each week, so be sure to check back on a regular basis!)
Many older adults experience feelings of loneliness and isolation as they age, but pets can provide the companionship and love seniors desire. A new survey conducted by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care Network, found regular interaction with animals can help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness in older adults.
The most frequently cited benefits of pet ownership are company, comfort, unconditional love, entertainment and improved mood. In fact, 86 percent of pet owners agree they would be lonelier and less happy without their pet, and 58 percent agree that they would not be as physically healthy without their pet.
The companionship and love provided by a pet can be especially meaningful for those most at risk for isolation. Home Instead found that pet owners who live alone are significantly more likely to report increased benefits of pet ownership.
Owning a pet can also be an important factor for seniors deciding where they will live as they age. According to the survey, 82 percent of older adults say they will not consider moving to a senior living community without their pet.
While interaction with animals has been shown to improve mental and physical well-being in older adults, research from Home Instead confirms that seniors don’t need to own pets to experience the benefits. Those who regularly interact with, but don’t own, pets report feeling better just spending time with animals owned by family, friends and neighbors.
There are many ways seniors can interact with animals without taking on the responsibility of pet ownership. Here are a few ideas:
• Volunteer at a rescue organization or animal shelter. Many rescue organizations and animal shelters could use an extra hand. Seniors can help provide care for animals, including feeding, watering, restocking supplies, washing dishes, walking dogs, cleaning cages and enclosures or socializing with the animals. Volunteers experience the benefits of interacting with pets, and they can provide some care to an animal in need.
• Get to know your neighbors’ pets. Seniors who regularly walk their neighborhoods will likely see pet owners walking their dogs. Asking to join them for a walk might lead to new friendships with neighbors and dogs.
• Connect with a therapy animal. Pet Partners therapy teams, made up of a pet owner and his or her registered animal, go into many locations where seniors are living or being treated, such as hospitals, hospice centers and care communities.
• Visit a pet store. Some pet stores sell small animals, such as guinea pigs, hamsters, chinchillas, gerbils, mice, rats, certain geckos, bearded dragons, snakes, and specific types of frogs, birds and fish. Visiting can provide a pet fix!
With so many options available, finding the right animal interaction for each individual should be as easy as a walk in the dog park.
To help older adults determine what type of pet interaction is right for them, the Home Instead Senior Care network is offering free information and tips to help seniors incorporate animals into their lives. To learn more about how older adults can bring animals into their lives, visit PetsandSeniors.com or contact your local Home Instead Senior Care office or www.homeinstead.com.
(For more information on pets and animal adoption, please visit www.petconnectionprogramsinc.com. Or, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/PetConnectionProgramsinc. Located in Marilla, N.Y., Pet Connection Programs Inc. is a nonprofit maternity and special care shelter founded in 1984.)