By Barbara Ballinger, AgingCare.com
For elderly pet owners, who often live alone or in group facilities, pets can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase social interaction and physical activity and help them learn.
“A new pet can stimulate someone to read up on an animal or breed, which can be very mentally stimulating and important at that age,” says Dr. Katharine Hillestad, a veterinarian with the office of Doctors Foster and Smith in Rhinelander, Wis., which provides online advice and retails pet supplies and pharmaceuticals.
Pets provide other intangibles. “Dogs—and other pets—live very much in the here and now. They don’t worry about tomorrow. And tomorrow can be very scary for an older person. By having an animal with that sense of now, it tends to rub off on people,” says Dr. Jay P. Granat, a New Jersey psychotherapist.
And pets can reduce depression and lessen loneliness. “Older pet owners have often told us how incredibly barren and lonely their lives were without their pet’s companionship, even when there were some downsides to owning an active pet,” says Linda Anderson, who with husband Allen founded the Angel Animals Network in Minneapolis. The couple speaks about the joys of pet ownership and has authored books.
In Angel Dogs: Divine Messengers of Love (New World Library, 2005), the Andersons tell about Bonnie, a golden retriever Marjorie and Richard Douse adopted, which became an indispensable family member. “We never felt alone when Bonnie was in the house. As we aged and tended to go out less, she provided us with loving companionship,” the Douses say in the Anderson’s book.
Psychologist Penny B. Donnenfeld, who brings her golden retriever mix Sandee to her New York City office, has even witnessed her ability to rev up elder owners’ memories. “I’ve seen those with memory loss interact and access memories from long ago,” she says. “Having a pet helps the senior focus on something other than physical problems and negative preoccupations about loss or aging.”
Pets benefit, too, particularly when older folks adopt older pets. “These lucky pets go from the pound to paradise. Since most of the adopters are retired, they have lots of time to devote to a previously unwanted pet,” says Chicago veterinarian Tony Kremer, who with his wife Meg operates Help Save Pets—Humane Society, which operates adoption centers.