The Perks of Pets: 7 Health Benefits for Seniors
A pet is more than just a hobby or a companion—they’re family. People form deep, lasting attachments to animals that may rival their relationships with humans. After all, Fido never judges and Fluffy never lies.
For many seniors, pets are critical to well-being and a key incentive to get out of bed each day. Seniors’ pets are welcome at Cedarhurst precisely for this reason. They’re an integral and valued aspect of our community, and our pet-friendly culture is just as important as our other amenities.
If you’re contemplating helping your loved one move to a senior living community, you might worry about what will happen to their pet or whether it’s in their best interests to continue caring for a pet. Good news: Your parent’s animal friend can help make the transition into senior living easier and support their health goals for years to come.
Here are some of the many health benefits pets offer seniors.
1. Seniors’ pets provide easy companionship.
Pets offer unconditional love: Treat them well and you’ll have a friend for life. Human relationships tend to be messier. We’ve all fought with loved ones over their tone of voice or argued over what movie to watch. For seniors who want a little bit more ease in their relationships, pets are perfect friends. These relationships can make the weight of aging’s many challenges feel a little lighter.
They also reduce loneliness. As people get older, they may find themselves more isolated when spouses die, friends move away, and driving becomes impossible. Research suggests that loneliness is just as bad for health as smoking, so if an animal can relieve loneliness, it could prolong—or even save—your loved one’s life.
2. Seniors’ pets help reduce stress.
We all know how awful stress feels, but stress doesn’t just feel bad—it’s bad for you. Chronic stress is linked to a wide variety of medical issues and even premature death. One study found that stress shaves almost three years off of a person’s life expectancy.
Knowing that stress is bad for your loved one, though, won’t relieve their stress or yours. It might even make you panic about being stressed!
Pets offer a path out of the cycle of stress. They decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol. They can also encourage your loved one to adopt healthy stress management techniques, such as gathering with friends at a dog park or going for a walk. Pet owners are less stressed, and that means they are healthier and enjoy their lives more.
3. Seniors’ pets provide an incentive to keep moving.
Exercise is one of the best things your loved one can do for their health. Even just 11 minutes of exercise a day can add years to a person’s life. However, aging can make exercise more difficult, especially if your loved one has chronic pain or mobility limitations. A sedentary lifestyle can easily become a habit.
When a pet wants to play, it’s hard to tell them no. Exercise becomes something fun instead of a chore on your loved one’s to-do list. Over time, regular exercise can:
- Improve heart health
- Reduce the risk of chronic disease
- Improve mental health
- Help maintain a healthy weight
- Lower the risk of dementia
4. Seniors’ pets serve as a social icebreaker.
Friendship is a vital ingredient in the recipe for good health. Meeting new people can be challenging, though. While the right senior living community offers numerous benefits, the transition can be hard for people who are shy or uncomfortable in new settings. Joining a new group can feel intimidating.
Pets help break the ice. After all, who doesn’t love petting an adorable puppy or sharing amusing pet anecdotes with a fellow animal lover? In one survey, researchers asked more than 2,500 adults about their social experiences with pets. Pet ownership was the third most popular strategy for meeting new friends. Pet owners were also 60 percent more likely to meet new people in their neighborhoods.
Think an adorable puppy is the only way to make friends? Think again! Studies have found that non-traditional pets are social icebreakers, too, offering conversation starters and a chance to connect with others. So, the enormous aquarium you help clean or the tiny hamster that keeps chewing through her cage could be just as important to your parents’ well-being as a more traditional pet.
5. Seniors’ pets help decrease dementia symptoms.
Some people mistakenly believe that people living with dementia should no longer have pets. Maybe you’re one of them. It’s true that dementia can compromise your loved one’s ability to care for their pets, but the time and effort involved in helping your loved one care for a pet are well worth it.
Research consistently finds that pets can help ease some of the most challenging symptoms of dementia, including irritability, agitation, and depression. As your loved one’s ability to connect with family declines, their ability to connect with an animal may remain intact, reducing their feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Pets are so valuable to the well-being of people with dementia that even robotic pets can reduce the need for sedatives and other medications. Your parent’s beloved pooch or feline companion could help them avoid drug side effects and reduce the many challenges of living with dementia.
For all of these reasons, memory care communities are increasingly welcoming pets.
6. Seniors’ pets provide intellectual stimulation.
Caring for pets can be challenging—and that’s a good thing! If you’ve ever binge-watched YouTube videos on pets, delved into dog training manuals, or joined a birdwatching group, you know that animal behavior is immensely fascinating. There’s always something more to learn.
Intellectual stimulation can help keep your loved one’s brain healthy. Staying mentally active strengthens the neurons, reducing their risk of dementia. It’s also just fun. Pets’ weird antics—and occasional misbehavior—can give the day shape and purpose, helping your loved one enjoy the next chapter of their life.
7. Seniors’ pets promote better quality of life overall.
Quality of life matters. The joy your loved one gets from owning a pet, the reduced stress, and the improved social opportunities should all be reason enough to welcome their animal companion into their senior living community. After all, emotional well-being and physical health are inextricably linked. A person who feels good about their life and sense of purpose is better equipped to keep moving, keep going to the doctor, and stick with a healthy diet.
Aside from mental health benefits, pets can also improve physical health. Research has found a number of benefits, including:
- Reduced blood pressure: This reduction in blood pressure may correspond to a reduction in feelings of stress.
- Allergy prevention in babies and children: Children raised with pets are less likely to develop allergies, so an animal companion is a great reason for grandkids to visit and may benefit the entire family!
- An improvement in mood: When a pet companion is there to boost your loved one’s mood, it reduces the risks of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
- Better pain management: This may reduce the need to use potentially addictive pain medication.
- A healthier immune system: This can be especially important for older adults who may be more vulnerable to serious complications from infections like the flu and COVID-19.
Cedarhurst is different from other senior living communities. We’re truly resident-centered, offering support for people at every stage of the aging journey—and that’s why we always welcome pets.
Learn more about what sets us apart with our comprehensive guide to Holistic Health.