Dog Walking: A Fuzzy Balm for Seniors
Dog walking, pets and seniors – the perfect combo for happiness! It really is amazing how pets can breath new life into seniors and vice versa. Let’s face it, when we’re around a soft, snuggly dog or cat, life is just better!
As that brilliant, life-philosopher Charles M. Schultz once observed: “Happiness is a warm puppy.” In fact, pet ownership is so beneficial, it may actually help seniors live longer, healthier and more fulfilled lives!
How Pets Benefit Seniors
Indeed, the Eden Alternative, a residential home for seniors that recognizes the importance of the human/pet bond, is home to a menagerie of animals. They not only have dogs, cats, a private aviary, rabbits and chickens, they boast a 15 percent lower mortality rate for their residents, compared to traditional nursing homes. Likewise, research conducted in the 1990s supports the Eden model. In May of 1999, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society published a study which showed that independent-living seniors that have pets enjoy better physical health and mental wellbeing than their sans-pet counterparts. Not only are they more active physically and socially, they cope better with the stresses of daily life.
These findings are further evidenced by an earlier study conducted in 1997, which demonstrated that senior pet owners had significantly lower blood pressure than seniors who didn’t own pets. Likewise, just petting a dog or cat for a few minutes can lower blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.
So just how do pets benefit seniors? From increased physical wellbeing to the intangibles of having the companionship of a fuzzy friend, the ways pets positively impact our lives are almost too numerous to count. Nevertheless, there are some very practical explanations of why pets are little medical miracles.
To begin, I smile every morning when my dog wakes me up! Her sweet little face, her warm little body all snuggled into mine, and that expectant look she gives me after she’s stretched and is ready to start her day. There’s just something about that recognition – that love and acceptance in a pet’s eyes. Clearly dogs and cats “get” what some of our human counterparts often miss. Our worth isn’t based on what we can do, how we look, or how healthy we are – our worth is intrinsic and pets love us for exactly who we are right now.
Also, the fact that pets need our loving care plays a significant role in our own wellbeing. At a time when so many seniors can sadly feel left behind and even incidental to their children’s busy lives, their pets nevertheless crucially need them. The importance of this emotional reality is almost incalculable. Pets need to be let outside, played with, fed, given fresh water, loved-up on and groomed. Furthermore, pets encourage our interaction with them throughout the day, and that physical contact has been shown to be immeasurably beneficial, starting with brain stimulation and ending with a feeling of overall wellbeing.
And all of these interactions require our physical, intellectual and emotional engagement. Getting up to let the dog out, playing with our pets or even changing the kitty litter, while all minor physical movements, nevertheless positively affect our cardiovascular system. Likewise, all that bending and stretching, all that walking and petting, keeps our joints active, limber and flexible. And that’s saying nothing about all the hours of laughter and joy, which definitely keeps our hearts young!
Lastly, beyond pets providing companionship and physical activity, they also can act as a real support system, especially for those seniors who aren’t afforded frequent contact with family and friends. And that pet/owner bond is very real and it’s positive impact on our lives should never be underestimated. Pets depend on us! And that dependency can give seniors a real sense of purpose and meaning. Obviously, that strong emotional bond, comforting presence, empathy and acceptance that pets provide, can go a long way to combat depression – one of the most common ailments that many seniors struggle with.