If you’ve ever had a pet, you know how valuable they can be for your overall sense of happiness. Pets are more than just animals we take care of. They add joy, love, and warmth to our lives and our homes, and caring for another living being can offer us a strong sense of meaning and purpose.
At any age, pets can do wonders for your mental health. The link between pets and mental health may be especially strong for seniors, though. Taking care of a pet can bring about a number of psychological and physical benefits that can boost your health and improve your quality of life.
5 Benefits of Pets for Seniors
Decreases Stress and Anxiety
Seniors are vulnerable to stress for many reasons. They may face financial hardship, health problems, social isolation, and a number of other stressful situations. Having healthy methods for coping with stress is so important for older adults, and caring for a pet is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety.
Research shows that people with pets have lower heart rates and blood pressure on average than people without pets. Being in the presence of a pet can reduce the physiological signs of stress, and feeling physically calmer can help you feel mentally calmer as well. Another study found that petting a dog can increase your levels of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes feelings of love and trust, while decreasing your levels of cortisol, one of the main stress hormones.
Spending time with a pet is one of the simplest but most enjoyable ways to relax. The unconditional love between you and your pet can help you feel at peace even when you’re going through stressful life events.
One of the biggest problems affecting older adults is loneliness. Seniors are more likely to live alone than younger adults, and they may struggle to get enough quality social interaction with family and friends. While having a pet isn’t a perfect substitute for human connection, it can dramatically reduce feelings of loneliness or isolation.
Having another living being in your home can help you feel far less lonely. When you have a pet, you know that you have someone to interact with every day. You can play with them, talk to them, or simply enjoy their presence. Pets make your home feel much warmer and livelier even if you live alone.
Promotes Physical Activity
Staying active is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall health as an older adult. Adopting a pet, especially a dog, is an excellent way to motivate yourself to increase your physical activity. When you take your dog on daily walks, you also get to enjoy the exercise. This improves your heart health, strengthens your muscles, and helps you maintain your mobility so that you can continue to navigate your home without issue.
Grooming and playing with your pet can be a source of physical activity, too. Although this may not be as much exercise as walking a dog, anything you can do to maintain your mobility and dexterity can be beneficial.
Creates Structure and Routine
Older adults sometimes struggle with maintaining a consistent daily or weekly routine. After retirement, you probably have much more free time than you used to, and you may not have as many specific obligations or responsibilities. While it’s great to have extra time to relax, a lack of routine or structure in your daily life can have health consequences. Your activity level may decline, you may struggle to get quality sleep, and you might not get enough social interaction to maintain your emotional and cognitive health.
Taking care of a pet is an ongoing commitment, and it can add some much-needed structure to your day. When you know that your pet is counting on you to feed them, play with them, or take them for a walk, you’ll feel more motivated to follow a healthy daily routine. You might not always want to get out of bed or complete daily chores around the house if you’re only concerned with yourself, but when you’re taking care of another living being, your days will feel much more meaningful.
Increased self-esteem is one of the most valuable psychological benefits of pets. Sometimes, older adults feel discouraged by their age. When you’re retired with grown-up children, you might feel like you’re looking for a new sense of purpose. Aging can change your understanding of your identity and the roles you play in your family and community, but caring for a pet is a powerful reminder that you are loved and needed.
Taking care of a pet isn’t easy work. Animals require daily care, and it’s your responsibility to provide or arrange for this care. When you know that you’re capable of supporting another life, you’ll feel much more confident in yourself and your abilities.
What to Consider Before Adopting a Pet
It’s important to note that, although pets do offer many benefits for older adults, caring for one is a major commitment. You should only get a pet if you’re certain that you have the time, resources, and ability to give the animal the proper care. If getting a pet isn’t the right choice for you right now, you could still experience many of the benefits by spending time with a friend or family member’s pet or by volunteering at a local shelter.
If you’re confident that you’re equipped to care for a pet, you also should carefully consider what type of animal to adopt. Do you prefer high-energy animals or calmer pets? Do you have allergies or other issues that might limit which types of animals you can have in your home? What kind of pet would align best with your lifestyle?
Your pet should be a source of joy and comfort, not a source of stress. By being careful and thoughtful in your decision to adopt a pet, you ensure that you’re providing a good home for the animal while also improving your own life.
The benefits of having a pet are countless. Pets provide so much meaning and purpose to our daily lives, which is especially valuable for older adults who struggle with isolation. They can reduce your stress, increase your activity level, and improve your overall quality of life. If you’ve been looking for ways to brighten up your day, consider speaking with your area’s animal rescue or other local organizations to discuss your options for adopting a pet.
Owning a pet can be great for your mental health, but sometimes, a higher level of support is needed as well. If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, anxiety, grief, or other mental or emotional concerns, Blue Moon Senior Counseling is here to help. You can contact us today to connect with a licensed therapist who specializes in senior mental health.