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The Healing Power of Pets

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Loneliness can often be a hard reality for our seniors. As we age, friends and loved ones pass, grandchildren get older and move away, and social activities we once loved can become harder to manage. Fortunately, there is a solution to filling these lapses in comforting companionship that comes in the form of an adorable fur ball.

Pets have proven to be the undefeated mend between seniors and loneliness. The yin to a senior’s yang if you will. In fact, throw the idea of loneliness out the window. Pets can have a plethora of benefits, so it would be unfair to categorize them as a solution to just one problem. Pets can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and increase social interaction and physical activity.

Pets also have the uncanny ability to bring their owners into the present. The idea of “tomorrow” can sometimes be a scary thought for seniors, but not for pets. Pets love nothing more than living in the moment and this can often rub off on their owners, bringing everything back down to earth. The ability for pets to keep their owners connected and occupied with the world in front of them can also be stabilizing for those with Alzheimer’s Sundowners Syndrome. When nighttime becomes disorienting for those with Alzheimer’s, pets can reorient their owner.

This goes even further than the “present” moment though. Studies have shown that pets can even help seniors regain access to forgotten memories. Because pets can help seniors focus on something other than their physical problems and negative preoccupations about loss or aging, they can free up space in seniors’ minds for things like old memories. Depression can come in the form of a smothering cloud and when that cloud is parted, it’s amazing the types of openings that are created.

According to this article: https://aginginplace.org/seniors-and-pets/ from AgingInPlace.org, just 15 minutes bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone, cortisol, and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. In the short term, this results in lowered heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels. The long term? Lowered cholesterol levels, lessened depression and even protection against heart disease and stroke.

Having a loyal companion by your side who relies on you for care can give you a sense of purpose and remind you of the importance of being present in the moment of every day. These friends can also bring relief to your more taxing thoughts, providing calm when plagued with stressful or anxious thoughts. If you adopt a dog, daily walks will ensure you get up and out of the house every day, giving you a routine exercise schedule. Additionally, with a dog, you can even get security for your home. Nothing like a loud bark to ward off thieves. Lastly, pets can be a great gateway to remaining social. Whether its meet-ups with other pet owners, conversations with passersby while you walk, or even just going to the groomer, pets provide a whole new social outlet.

Additionally, a pet adoption from a senior owner is one that’s mutually beneficial. Since seniors tend to have a lot of time they can dedicate to a new pet, the animal goes from unloved, to a place where all they know is unconditional love and affection. This often forms an incredibly strong bond between the pet and their owner and makes for two happy parties.

But, before you adopt a pet, it’s important you do your research and recognize the risks and requirements for owning a pet. For example, if you are mostly immobile, probably best you adopt a cat so that you don’t have to walk them. Other factors to consider include having to change your normal routine, getting the pet checked by a veterinarian for any pre-existing illnesses or diseases, initial costs, reaching a point where you can no longer take care of the animal, or having poor health conditions that a pet may make harder for you to deal with. If you have specific disabilities, it could make sense to look into a service dog that is trained to help with your disability.

It’s often suggested that senior humans consider senior animals when adopting to help with some of the pet maintenance items that are tougher with younger animals. Senior or more mature pets are often calmer and quieter than their younger counterparts. If it comes to a point where you can no longer take care of your pet, or it’s proving a more difficult endeavor than you anticipated, “open adoption” is a great option for finding your pet a new home. This means meeting the new owner to ensure they are the right fit, and keeping an open visitation deal so you don’t have to say goodbye forever.

If you don’t think you can adopt a pet but would still like the companionship of an animal, there are many pet therapy programs throughout the nation that you can look into such as Alliance of Therapy Dogs and Therapy Dogs International. These volunteer-run organizations will send volunteers with well-behaved, trained service dogs to your home for a session.

A pet can have a life-changing impact. Ask your veterinarian, family members, and doctor if having a pet is a healthy choice for you.

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