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The power of pet therapy is thought to be stronger than any
medication, not only for people going through tough times or in
poor health, but also for the elderly as well. Proven to increase
mental alertness, build self-esteem, and decrease loneliness, pets
can provide a warm and fulfilling relationship that older people-or
indeed all of us-desire.
"Pet ownership for older people can be very beneficial by giving
them something to love and care for, as well as a companion in the
home, especially if they live alone," said Dr. Sonny Presnal,
Director of the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care
Center at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences (CVM). "I don't believe there are any
appreciable risks, providing that good decisions are made in the
choice of a pet for older people."
Having the responsibility of caring for a pet can be a healthy
situation for most elderly people. Sometimes, a pet can be the only
reason that he or she feels a need to get up in the morning; it
provides them with a sense of purpose. "It gives older pet owners
something to care for, which in the case of a dog may mean they are
out taking the dog on a walk instead of sitting in the house," said
Presnal. In addition, there are many studies that attribute pet
ownership to relieving stress, lowering blood pressure and
cholesterol levels, and bettering mental health.
Not only do pets help the elderly overcome various health
ailments, but also they can significantly decrease their owners'
sense of loneliness. As you probably already know, pets are
automatic people magnets and are often a great conversation
starter. People love talking about their pets, and others love
interacting with the pets they encounter. This can often lead to
new friendships and can provide beneficial social interactions that
elderly people may not have otherwise had the chance to experience.
This, in addition to simply having something to care for,
significantly decreases loneliness and accompanying depression.
When choosing a pet, you must take into consideration the
limitations of the elderly person's physical and mental health. "A
large, active dog may not be suitable for older people, due to the
risk of injury to the owner from an accidental collision that may
cause them to fall," said Presnal. "Fractures from falls can be
very dangerous for older people, especially hip fractures."
A young puppy or kitten may not be a suitable choice either, due
to their high maintenance requirements. An older dog or cat that
has matured past their ball of energy phase can be a perfect
companion. Not only does adopting an older pet benefit their owner,
but may save the pet from euthanasia, as often people are
(unfortunately) not interested in adopting older animals.
A concern that many elderly people considering pet ownership
face is the possibility that they will no longer be able to care
for their pet later on. This can happen if their health suddenly
decreases, or if the animal becomes in need of extensive veterinary
care. "There are many mobile veterinary services available for
older persons who may not drive or who otherwise have problems
transporting their pets for veterinary care," said Presnal. There
are also programs, such as the Stevenson Center, that provide for
the physical, emotional, and medical needs of companion animals
when their owners can no longer do so.
The Stevenson Center, which Presnal directs, is a unique program
that has veterinary students who live at the center to provide
companionship and care for the resident pets at night and on
weekends and holidays. "As part of the CVM, the resident pets
receive the ultimate in veterinary care at the Veterinary Medical
Teaching Hospital," said Presnal. "We believe the level of care and
companionship is unequaled by any other similar program."
It is proven that animals can help enrich the lives of their
owners both physically and emotionally, and this can be especially
true for the elderly. The right pet can provide them with a sense
of purpose, nonjudgmental acceptance, and companionship that both
animals and humans need to stay happy and comfortable.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary
Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.
Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for
future topics may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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