If you’re a longtime pet owner, you already know your animal friends bring lots of joy. What you might not know is, your pet is probably doing much, much more than making you smile. Research continually shows the health benefits of pets for seniors, proving pets affect your well-being in many important ways.
If you don’t already have a four-legged friend, here are some reasons you might want to consider adding to your family (or if you already have a pet in your household, all these health benefits might be worth an extra treat!).
Loneliness is a serious problem for seniors because of the mental and physical health problems it manifests. Admittedly, some animals are more likely to “talk back” than others, but even the presence of a pet who listens, offers unconditional affection, and simply shares in the minutiae of daily life can be soothing. Seniors with pets are 36% less likely to report loneliness than their peers who don’t have pets.
In a similar vein, socialization is another health benefit of pets for seniors. Pets often serve as a gateway to forging new relationships. Pet owners are more likely to know people in their neighborhood, and pet-related connections are a common basis for those introductions. Taking walks, visiting dog parks and attending pet-friendly events are all ways to meet peers who share your interest in pets, and common interests make a great foundation for friendships.
Sense of Purpose
In retirement, many seniors struggle with a sense of purpose. Without job demands or a family to care for, life may not hold as much meaning. There’s no doubt a pet will rely on you for certain needs, like regular feeding, grooming and affection. Successfully delivering on those ongoing needs brings satisfaction and purpose to every day.
Humans thrive on familiar routines, but in retirement, without specific demands on your time, it’s easy to let routines fall by the wayside. Pets tend to let you know in very clear terms when it’s time to get up, eat and even go outside. Their routines become your routines, adding some beneficial structure to your days.
Multiple studies suggest pet ownership can help reduce stress, which is another key health benefit of pets for seniors. In one study, 75% of pet owners credited their animals with reducing stress. That’s not surprising; researchers have proven simply stroking a pet can reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and other research shows a healthier cardiovascular response to stress among dog owners. Experts also point out that pets help seniors focus attention on the present, rather than fretting about the past or what unknowns the future may hold.
Incentive to Exercise
Although more commonly associated with dogs than other pets, another health benefit of pets for seniors is the push to get moving. Dogs require potty breaks and regular exercise, and all that walking means you’re more likely to hit the recommended physical activity goals for healthy aging. That, in turn, means you’re lowering your risk for several diseases and chronic conditions, simply by being a good pet parent. Regular movement also plays an important role in keeping up your strength and balance, both of which support your mobility and reduce your fall risk as you age.
According to the American Heart Association, owning a dog is happy news for your heart. Dog parents live longer and are 31% less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke than people who don’t have dogs. Studies also show dog owners have lower blood pressure than their Fido-free counterparts.
A Wellness-Minded Community Where Pets are Welcome
At Wyndemere, our philosophy of whole-body wellness means we support residents with life-enriching programs and activities designed for optimal health. As a pet-friendly community, we recognize the health benefits of pets for seniors; our walking trails are an ideal spot for getting some exercise together. We also connect each resident with our Health Care Navigator, who is a comprehensive senior care and wellness resource. Get in touch to learn more about our living options and the active, engaging retirement lifestyle we offer seniors in the Chicago area.