A Reason to Get Up in the Morning: Pets Help Elderly in Assisted-Living Facilities

By Guest Writer, John Hill 

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It's hard for many senior citizens to give up their independence. They've been vibrant citizens all their lives, working jobs, raising families and taking care of homes. But there comes a time when they need a little help in their day-to-day tasks. That's often when the subject of moving to a retirement community comes up.

However, even with the smoothest of transitions, there can be stress. Keeping their lives as normal as possible in their new retirement communities is important — and one of the best ways to streamline the adjustment is to bring along their pets.

Lower Healthcare Costs

More retirement communities are allowing residents to keep animals because of all the benefits they provide. According to a University of Minnesota study, pets lower healthcare costs. Elderly people with pets actually make fewer doctor visits than those who don’t. Why? Aplaceformom.com has some statistics:

• Seniors with pets have more emotional stability in times of stress.

• Pet owners have lower systolic blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

• Cardiac patients who have owned pets live longer than those who don’t have pets. For example, people without cats are 30 to 40 percent more likely to die of heart disease than those who own cats, the study shows.

• It's healthy for seniors when their pets are nearby. Pets can stabilize a person of any age's heart rate and blood pressure when faced with a challenge.

• Pets fight depression.

It's Going to Be a Great Day

This mood enhancement is crucial at a time when seniors are making big adjustments.  Fortunately, the studies linking pet ownership with happiness are making an impact on retirement communities. In an article in the Herald-Tribune, Lori Kogan, a professor of veterinary medicine at Colorado State University, was quoted as saying, "Clients will often say their pets are the reason they try to continue living." She goes on to say that they give them a renewed energy and a reason to get up in the morning.

As people age, they lose relatives and friends along with jobs, homes and mobility, so pets become increasingly important, Kogan said.

For example, Shirlee Horowitz, 77, and her husband began living at the Regency Grand in West Covina, Calif., where meals, housekeeping and transportation are provided. Most importantly, their collie, Barney, was welcomed with open arms. Horowitz told the Herald-Tribune she was worried about Barney because he previously had a big yard.

"But he has adjusted to this better than we have," she said.

Also, the dog's friendliness allowed the couple to meet their neighbors, and their daily walks helped the couple find their way around the complex.

It Just Makes Sense

The Waltham Book of Human-Animal Interactions presented a study, mentioned in an article in the Deseret News in Salt Lake City that showed women in nursing homes would rather play with a rabbit for an hour than have time to do whatever they want. The article also state a study in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found pet ownership by the elderly increases activity and ability to handle stress and lowers blood pressure.

Shirley Skirvin, 78, lives with her husband, Sid, in an independent living facility, according to the Chicago Tribune. She has found a good way to cheer up her neighbors: walking the grounds with her 6-pound toy poodle, Spunky, who she brought with her when she moved into Village at Skyline in Colorado Springs, Colo. almost three years ago.

"Dogs keep you from being so self-absorbed," Skirvin was quoted as saying. "They remind you constantly of other qualities of life."

About the Author: John is a former print journalist who converted to digital when he fell in love with blogging for larger audiences. He writes about health, fitness and medical topics.