It is widely believed that pets can have a positive effect upon the health of their owners, and statistics show that elderly people stand to gain as much as anyone from animals – not just in terms of companionship, but also with regard to their physical wellbeing.
Older people are more likely to experience a wide variety of chronic health complaints – including hypertension, arthritis, osteoporosis, high cholesterol, chronic pain, and diabetes. Pets are able to help with these conditions in various ways. One National Institute of Health funded study of 240 married couples showed that those who had pets also had lower blood pressure and a slower heart rate than average. As dogs need to be walked regularly, this encourages their owners to take regular, gentle exercise, which can have a wide range of benefits for older people – from strengthening bones, to lowering cholesterol.
Studies have also shown that owning pets reduces the risk of stroke and heart attacks – a National Health and Nutrition Examination Study in America in 2008 showed that over 20 years, those who had never owned a cat were 40% more likely to suffer a heart attack. The action of stroking a pet has the benefit of lowering stress, whilst the body heat given off by mammalian pets can help soothe chronic pain. Dogs can also be trained to assist those experiencing diabetes and dementia, as well as the obvious example of those with impaired vision.
The benefits that pets can bring are not just limited to older people who live entirely independently – in fact, it seems that having a pet can extend the amount of time that an elderly person is able to remain independent. Organisations that offer live-in care services – like The Good Care Group – can help elderly people to take care of their pets as well as themselves, allowing the animals and their owners to live happy and healthy lives from the comfort of their own home.