Physically, mentally and emotionally, pets can play a powerful and positive role in the overall health and well-being of people of all ages, including those who are 55+. Whether it’s a dog, cat or other nonhuman companion, animals can increase a person’s quality of life in myriad ways, from lifting spirits and calming nerves to promoting exercise and providing protection.
Here, we highlight 10 ways having a pet can enhance the lives of older adults and help keep them young at heart.
- Reduce Stress: Pets live in the present. They don’t dwell on the problems of the past or worry about what lies ahead. Naturally, animals practice and promote mindfulness — a state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on being in the moment. Interacting with animals also decreases cortisol (a stress-related hormone) levels and increases oxytocin (the “love” hormone) levels. Even focusing your attention on a fish swimming in a tank can reduce stress and promote calmness.
- Alleviate Depression: Animals are natural mood boosters and serve as sources of comfort, support and companionship, which helps reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Pets also don’t care about your political views, personal or professional achievements or how badly your favorite sports player performed that day — they are a constant source of positive interaction and joy.
- Establish a Routine: Like humans, animals are at their best when they follow a routine — eating meals, getting treats, exercising, training and sleeping at generally the same time every day. Establishing a pattern with a pet will also help you stay on track. Do you have daily medications you worry about remembering to take or tend to skip breakfast? Schedule these activities around your pet’s meal times to ensure time is set aside to accomplish these tasks and they won’t be forgotten. Maintaining routines also helps give meaning and structure to daily life.
- Promote Exercise: Whether it’s a stroll around the block, trip to the park or game of fetch in the backyard, animals (especially dogs of all sizes, but also cats) can help promote physical activity, establish regular exercise patterns and get their owners outside and interacting with nature. Regular physical activity can help decrease blood pressure, as well as reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Plus, pets mold their schedules to their owners and are never too busy to accompany them on a walk or run.
- Increase Socialization: Whether it’s a visit to the pet store, park, veterinarian or groomer, caring for an animal helps promote social interactions. Pets also are natural ice breakers and help forge connections between people of all ages. More than 60% of the population owns a pet, so chances are high that if you meet someone new, they either own a pet or know someone who does. And, Facebook and Instagram are chock-full of groups dedicated to connecting pet owners to share stories and promote a sense of support and companionship.
- Provide Protection: You don’t need to own a 100-pound rottweiler to feel protected in your home. Even smaller dogs can muster enough enthusiasm to deter a thief from breaking into your home or let you know that someone is at the front door. Cats also have been known to make attempts to alert their owners to disturbances inside their house.
- Learn a New Skill: From volunteering at charity events and attending pet paloozas to making shelters, toys, treats and even handmade outfits, owning a pet offers ample opportunities to learn a new skill, from cooking and crafting to building and much more.
- Establish Responsibility: Caring for another life helps people — especially older adults — stay invested in their own lives by establishing a commitment and connection to something else. In addition, pets rely heavily on their owners for basic needs, such as food, interaction and exercise. Providing these necessities gives people a sense of purpose, usefulness and value, which is naturally important to humans, as is the need to forge connections and maintain relationships with other living things.
- Exercise the Mind: Beyond providing basic needs, pet owners also are known to go above and beyond to provide their pets with the best lives possible. This requires a lot of research. Thousands of YouTube videos, books and online forums are dedicated to helping people discover how to best care for their animals. From training techniques and special diets to optimal living environments, mental and physical exercise and more, owning a pet provides plenty of opportunities to exercise the mind, stay sharp and solve problems.
- Create Companionship: Whether you adopt a pet from a breeder, pet store or shelter or decide to care for a stray animal, you are providing another life with a forever home — a place to eat, sleep, relax and live their best life. They may not be able to express their gratitude verbally, but pet owners certainly feel the magic that exists between them and their furry, feathered or scaled friends.
Have you decided having a pet would be a positive experience, bring you joy and enhance your overall quality of life? Contact your Home Manager to learn more about making this important decision, potential animals that are best suited to your lifestyle and how to prepare for bringing a new life into your home.
Upside is proud to take everything you thought you knew about senior living and turn it on its head. Since our inception, we’ve provided active older adults with dynamic living options that offer maintenance-free, active lifestyles in intergenerational communities.
Upside offers dynamic living options all across the United States. We offer one-, two-, and three-bedroom units that let older adults and retirees downsize to their comfort level while staying front and center for all the hustle and bustle of city life.
Learn more about our unique approach to senior living and start living the retirement life you’ve only dreamed of having. Contact us today to speak with a Upside advisor.