There are many benefits to interactions between seniors and animals. From pet therapy to the enjoyment of a long-term pet companion, the benefits are significant and can make a difference in physical, emotional and mental well-being for seniors.
One thing some retired adults struggle with is isolation. After leaving a career with daily social interaction or moving away from a known neighborhood for retirement purposes, seniors might find that they miss those interactions but be unsure how to go about engaging in them again. They may also be less interested in venturing out than they once were or find that family and friends aren't able to visit as much as they would like. Pets have been shown to provide companionship that reduces loneliness and feelings of isolation.
Pets are ideal companions because, while they cannot speak, they are often interactive. Sometimes, the act of giving a pet attention when they want it or engaging in the responsibility of caring for an animal companion is enough to help many people feel less lonely than they otherwise might.
Interacting with an animal promotes the release of serotonin, the feel-good chemical in the brain that promotes a sense of well-being. In other words, interacting with animals makes many people feel better mentally. A better mood can carry over into other areas of life, which is important for seniors who want to live as actively as possible.
Seniors that struggle with mental illness or depression often find benefit in caring for a pet. At times when they might want to wallow in bed, a pet can force them to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Seniors that have recently lost a loved one may find that their mood is lifted with the help of a pet companion because of the endless affection provided by pets, especially those of the furry variety.
Pets promote increased opportunities for socialization. After all, some need to be walked or taken to the vet on occasion. Seniors with pets may need to venture out to purchase supplies routinely. There is a lot that goes into pet care, so some degree of socialization is inherently built into this process.
Moreover, pet owners tend to have a sense of kinship with other pet owners. Therefore, on walks, it's much more likely that another pet owner may stop a senior with an animal and strike up a conversation. This is especially true if the pet in question is a friendly one. All of this helps to make senior pet owners feel less isolated and lonely and creates more opportunities to form friendships.
Animals offer sensory stimulation for seniors. For example, seniors struggling with anxiety might find it soothing to stroke the soft hair of a cat who is emitting a contented purr. This may promote a sense of calm that cannot be obtained by other means. For some seniors, it is the sound of a dog's yap that brings them pleasure or the affection of dog "kisses."
Sensory stimulation promotes feelings of well-being in many seniors, and animals provide it through various means. The feel of fur is one of the elements of pet therapy that is most attractive for those that benefit from it. This soothing sensation is yet another benefit of the interaction between animals and seniors.
Animals can provide the kind of companionship that promotes stress relief among those with pets or even sometimes during brief interactions with animals that aren't your pets. If you'd like to explore the stress-relief opportunities offered by animals but aren't sure you're ready to care for your own pet, for example, you could consider volunteering at an animal shelter, visiting a petting zoo or asking about animal visits.
Pets can be ideal companions and often help those around them to feel calmer. They also help seniors to shift from the inward focus that may be contributing to stress to one that empathizes with the needs of the pet. By doing this, seniors may stop worrying about everything going on around them and focus on their animal instead.
Dogs, especially, are interactive companions that provide stress relief through the physical exercise required for their care and the endless affection they often provide their owners. The unconditional love that is provided by animals, especially toward long-time pet owners, can make a world of difference in emotional well-being.
The benefits of senior interactions with animals are one of the reasons that so many assisted living communities are pet-friendly. It is also one of the reasons that pet therapy is such an effective way to combat a host of issues with which many seniors contend. Pet therapy not only helps seniors struggling with mental wellness, but sometimes, it can even have physical benefits.
Simply put: Pets are good for the soul and those seniors with pets of their own already know as much.