Q: My mother is lonely and wants a pet. Is getting a pet a good idea for seniors?
A: What a great (and important) question!
As we age, adults can experience loneliness, isolation, anxiety and a decline in health — especially after the loss of loved ones and close friends.
We now know that owning a pet can alleviate some of these issues and provide many different benefits.
Research by the National institutes of Health shows that pets can provide important forms of emotional and social support for older adults, reducing stress, loneliness and improving overall quality of life.
According to AmericanHumane.org, pet ownership is one of the most common ways that older adults interact with animals; 50% of adults over age 50 own at least one pet.
The cost of ownership? The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates the (variable) average cost for a dog or cat at between $700 and $1,100 per year.
Owning a pet provides a sense of companionship, which can reduce feelings of loneliness and depression.
It also can give seniors a sense of purpose and responsibility and a reason to get up and be active each day — which ultimately can help improve overall physical health.
Dogs, in particular, require frequent daily walks, which can encourage seniors to slip on their sneakers and interact with the world.
This activity can help seniors maintain a healthy weight, improve cardiovascular health and even reduce the risk of chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease.