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  • Writer's pictureDiana Jamerson

Bringing better health to seniors. Now that's something to BARK about!

It is a well-known fact that animals bring a lot of pleasure to our lives. Some of us have had family pets since we were very young, providing a way for us to learn and grow in the areas of responsibility and kindness. In some instances, it was our pets that showed us what unconditional love felt like, as they stayed committed to us even through our bad days.

As we mature and grow older the benefits of having an animal in your life, in whatever type you prefer be it dog, cat, bird or reptile, are big both physically, mentally, as well as emotionally. Pets can improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, they can decrease feelings of loneliness.

A few other known benefits are :

· Reduce stress

· Lower blood pressure

· Stimulate mental engagement

· Increase social interaction

· Lessen loneliness and depression

Seniors often feel that they lack purpose in their lives, and a pet can offer much-needed companionship for seniors as well as adding structure and purpose to their daily life – not to mention the physical activity it will provide!

If you do consider getting a pet for an elderly family member or friend, be mindful that owning a pet is not the best path for everyone. There are issues to consider, at times bringing your pet to visit may be the better route, if you know the senior enjoys it. You can also check for Therapy Dog organizations in your area.

Consider the following:

· Is the individual set in their ways?

· Have they owned a pet before?

· Does the person have any health concerns or physical issues that would make it difficult to care for the pet?

· Do the personalities and temperaments of the pet and individual mix well?

· Are there financial constraints that could complicate caring for the pet?

· Can plans be put in place to care for the pet if the senior is no longer able to care for it?

This point is of particular concern to many elderly people who desire a pet in their lives.

Lastly, the ‘cuddle hormone' oxytocin is released into the brain when we spend time with our dogs. Researchers have also found that dogs trigger the 'pleasure hormone' dopamine and these two chemicals carry a number of health benefits including stress relief. Now that is something to “BARK” about!

Organizations that help seniors with pets:

1. The PAWS/LA P.A.C.E. Program exists to assist low-income seniors enrich their quality of life by providing assistance with the care of their companion animal. The positive correlation between seniors with animals and improved emotional outlook and health stability has been documented through numerous scientific studies.

2. A study on loneliness and isolation: Actual and perceived social isolation are both associated with increased risk for early mortality. In this meta-analytic review, our objective is to establish the overall and relative magnitude of social isolation and loneliness and to examine possible moderators.

3. A study on pain reduction in seniors with pets: The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of brief therapy dog visits to an outpatient pain management facility compared with time spent in a waiting room. Significant improvements were reported for pain, mood, and other measures of distress among patients after the therapy dog visit but not the waiting room control, with clinically meaningful pain relief (decrease ≥2 points) in 23% after the therapy dog visit and 4% in the waiting room control.

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