As people age, the number of things occupying their time and energy decreases. You may retire and stop working, see less of your friends and family, lose your spouse, and spend less time participating in activities outside the home. Since human beings are social creatures, it’s natural to experience a sense of loneliness as these things happen. Unfortunately, this loneliness as well as other health factors can lead to depression, anxiety, and other behavioral or mood disorders in seniors.
According to the Center for Disease Control, depression is the most prevalent mental health problem among older adults. Data indicated that depression is associated with distress and suffering and can lead to impairments in physical, mental, and social functioning and can adversely affect the course and complications of treatment of other chronic diseases. Older adults visit the emergency room more and use more medication, which can be costly to their health and their wallets.
It has been estimated that the amount of antidepressants prescribed in the United States has increased 400% in recent years- a staggering increase to say the least. While these medications do help many Americans living with depression and anxiety, they aren’t a viable solution for everyone. For seniors coping with mood disorders like depression, medications can be expensive and can have adverse interactions on other medications being taken by the individual leaving them unable to take or afford antidepressants. So what is an alternative solution for a senior struggling with loneliness, depression, anxiety, and other mood and behavioral disorders? Adopt a pet! Studies show that owning a pet like a cat or dog can have health benefits and improve mood and mental well being. Here are 5 of our biggest reasons seniors should own a pet:
Seniors having lost a spouse understandably feel isolated and may push loved ones away or spend less time doing the things they love. Having a pet to unconditionally love them during this period in their life could help them feel less alone when they need it most.
Owning a pet can bring structure and routine to daily life, giving us a daily purpose. Don’t feel like getting out of the bed in the morning? Your pet will! These additional responsibilities can give a sense of meaning and stability to a person suffering with depression.
In an article published by the National Center for Health Research, a study was conducted that showed adults that owned a dog or cat had lower resting heart rates and blood pressure measures than non-owners. It has been proven that simply touching a pet can lower ones blood pressure and cholesterol.
The duties that come along with pet owning like getting outside to walk the dog, taking the pet to the vet or groomer, shopping for pet supplies and food, all help the owner get out, talk to people, stay in touch with the real world and the outdoors. It can be too easy for seniors to stay indoors all day and never interact with anyone, which can lead to isolation and eventually being out of touch with the outside world.
Especially if you have a loved one living alone, adding a pet to the household will give not only the pet owner a sense of security, but their family will feel that their loved one is safer too. Even the presence of a small dog can increase their owner’s self-esteem and confidence and can deter anyone meaning to do harm (burglars etc.) to the household, from making that mistake.
The bottom line is depression in seniors, while understandable, doesn’t have to be inevitable. There is help out there for those who seek it. The benefits of owning a pet can greatly improve life for someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, at any age. Of course, as with any situation, it’s important to evaluate your loved ones’ health and abilities when considering adopting or owning a pet; it is a huge decision for anyone to make and should not be taken lightly. Discuss a plan for care for the animal, research veterinarians in the area and do your research on the pet you or your loved one is interested in. Once the pet is brought home, monitor your loved one and their new friend for a few hours, keep communication open and ask how they feel they are getting along with Fido or Fluffy to ensure it’s a good fit.
Whether your loved one is looking for a new friend to keep them company, or a sense of security in their home, finding a pet that is a good fit for their situation could change their life for the better, and yours too.