Research shows that senior citizens can benefit from pets a great deal, both mentally and physically. Besides providing companionship, pets reduce depression and stress, lower blood pressure, encourage activity and increase the opportunity for social interaction. For many older individuals, a companion animal provides essential social contact they would not otherwise experience.  Here are some of the health benefits that a pet can provide to older adults.

Physical activity. A pet, especially a dog, needs to be taken out for potty breaks, and on walks for exercise. This gets people up and out of the house, even if it is just for a short time. This regular physical activity helps increase flexibility, cardiovascular function and maintaining a healthy weight in senior citizens. It also may provide a chance for social interaction among neighbors.

Emotional wellbeing. Having responsibilities and routine are both extremely helpful in dealing with depression, and pets need just that. With a pet by your side, you are never alone, effectively eliminating the feelings of isolation and solitude stemming from being depressed. Pets also are conversation-starters, which can provide essential human contact for shy, withdrawn or lonely people.

Health benefits. Many studies over the years have proven that having a pet can reduce blood pressure and stress hormones, while increasing the feel-good chemicals in the brain. Pet-owning Alzheimer’s patients may have fewer anxious outbursts than people without pets, according to Web MD. The same routine and responsibility that helps combat depression can, in some cases, also help slow the onset of early Alzheimer’s symptoms.

When it comes time to choose a pet, there are always practical considerations, especially with older adults.   For instance, in the case of a dog, certainly everyone loves puppies, but they can be a lot of work.   If a dog is the companion of choice, seniors may want to consider an older dog. Older dogs are already house trained, past the puppy chewing stage, and usually calmer and lower-energy than their younger, more playful counterparts.

Think about the space a pet will require.  Seniors living in smaller apartments may want to look at smaller breeds such as Pugs, Boston Terriers and Miniature schnauzers.  All pets, even small ones, will need room for their sleeping area and space to store toys, grooming materials and food.  Think about how you'll accommodate your pet's special needs.

Regular grooming and care is something to be considered as well.   Some dogs shed more than other and those with longer fur may require special care to keep fur out of eyes and ears.  In addition to the grooming, large dogs especially eat a lot!   Consider the costs of feeding, vaccinating and caring for a dog before taking that final adoption step.

For more information on what pet may be best for your particular needs, talk to your local Humane Society or area veterinarian.  There are also many national organizations that work specifically with matching senior citizens and pets.

Humane Society - http://www.humanesociety.org

PAWS - http://www.paws.org/seniors-for-seniors.html




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