When most people think of the kinds of health risks faced by the elderly, they think of things like heart disease, stroke, and dementia, but while these health issues are serious, another potent risk looms large over seniors: loneliness. Studies suggest that one in three elderly people feel lonely, and on top of the mental health burden caused by loneliness, feeling lonely also increases the risk of chronic disease. Human companionship with family, friends, and even assisted living community residents and staff is important in fighting off feelings of loneliness, but another, frequently four-legged companion can provide even more support: pets. Seniors can benefit tremendously from having a pet, thanks to the companionship animals can provide. Take a closer look at how pets can help the elderly stave off the negative impacts of loneliness.
Physical Health Benefits
Having a pet is linked to a surprising list of physical health benefits for seniors. For seniors who are active and have a pet that needs exercise, daily walks and play are associated with improved mobility and weight loss. However, even pets that don’t need that level of activity are associated with lower blood pressure and a steadier heartbeat in their owners. People who own pets also tend to recover from heart attacks faster and need lower doses of pain medication after surgery. Though researchers are not sure of the exact mechanisms, simply interacting with a pet seems to reduce overall inflammation, which in turn reduces the risk of chronic illness.
Mental Health Benefits
Pets are a great source of mental health support for the elderly. Seniors with pets report dramatically lower rates of stress and loneliness, and they also report having more confidence than their peers who do not have pets. Pets can also create increased opportunities for social interactions with people, which also helps to reduce loneliness. Seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease experience less agitation and feel more comfortable in social situations when they have a pet companion.
Finding the Right Pet
For many aging adults, it becomes difficult to hear as they get older. If your loved one has some hearing loss, be sure to speak slowly, clearly, and at a volume that they can hear. However, try to avoid shouting at them. Nobody likes to be shouted at. Some people who have hearing issues rely on lip reading and nonverbal communication to understand, so be sure you are facing them when you speak to them so that they can see your facial expressions. Smile and make eye contact, and encourage them to continue if necessary.
If you’re looking for a vibrant community where your senior loved one can find companionship and support, consider Arizona Homestead. We pride ourselves on home-like environments that foster independence and connections while making sure that seniors have the support they need to be safe and healthy. Call us at (520) 401-3104 to learn more about our assisted living communities in Tucson.