5 ways animals can improve the lives of seniors

Seniors living in retirement residences may benefit from interaction with pets, whether they’re volunteering at a local animal shelter or caring for felines in their own homes. Animals have been scientifically proven to help improve the lives of senior citizens in a number of different ways, from the way seniors interact with their peers to the way they treat their own bodies, according to several studies.

1. Pets encourage physical activity
Animals, just like their human counterparts, require daily exercise. Because of this, pet owners and people who interact with dogs or cats are more likely to engage in regular physical activity. One study conducted by Michigan State University and published in Journal of Physical Activity & Health found that people who interacted with dogs got more daily exercise than about 60 percent of non dog walkers. Not only were these individuals healthier because of these pet-inspired treks, but they were more likely to participate in other exercise regimens as well. Dr. Mathew Reeves, a professor of epidemiology at Michigan State, said that people had a greater chance of being active during their free time by participating in gardening or recreational sports, according to the study.

2. Animals can help people form stronger personal relationships
People who form strong bonds with animals may have an easier time fostering long-lasting personal relationships, argues Lynette Hart, author of “The Role of Pets in Enhancing Human Well-being: Effects for Older People.” In her article, she explains that individuals who become close with animals may experience closer family units and happier relations with their spouses due to increased capacity for emotional bonding, an emphasis on placing another’s interests before one’s own and an effective understanding of boundaries. These skills translate to outside relationships, which may help seniors living in retirement villages to easily connect with their peers.

3. Socialization may be easier with an animal
Older adults who care for animals may be better able to hold conversations, according to research published in The Journal of Social Psychology. The study found that older adults who walked their pets around complexes became more social, speaking with their neighbors and passing individuals more frequently. Since most dogs are social by nature, people are less hesitant to approach them on the street. Additionally, seniors reported having an easier time starting conversations with other people when their animals were around, as they could simply start talking about the pet.

4. Animals make people happier
Seniors who regularly interact with animals have reported feeling happier and less lonely, according to The Bellingham Herald. The article followed 63-year-old Karen Lindvall-Larson as she volunteered at a local Humane Society. While Lindvall-Larson does not own any pets herself, she said to the source that she and a group of her senior friends spend their free time at the shelter because spending time with the animals make them happier.

“We brush them, socialize with them, play with them and cuddle them, depending on what an individual cat needs at the time,” Lindvall-Larson said. “It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.”

5. Those who interact with animals have lower stress levels
When tasked with performing a stressful activity, participants in a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reported having significantly lower anxiety levels when the task was conducted in the presence of an animal. Researchers concluded that furry companions had a calming effect on individuals. Additionally, seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia who undergo pet therapy have reported lower levels of anxiety, fear and depression, according to a separate study featured in The Journal of ECT. Researchers found that participants who engaged in pet therapy were able to speak to pet handlers about the animal and its history, which, in turn, led into a discussion about the senior and his or her own life experiences. Seniors also reported that physically petting the animals helped them experience heightened feelings of calmness and happy thoughts.