Hebrew SeniorLife’s independent living communities abound with friendships, including those between residents and their animals. Unlike the majority of independent living communities, pets are allowed at both Orchard Cove and NewBridge on the Charles. These pets are magnets for forming friendships as shown in our “Power of Friendship” video “Man’s Best Friend,” featuring Irv Rosenberg and his dog, Zoe.
Our Power of Friendship blog series covers the many health and wellness benefits of having friendships in our lives. Major studies have shown that owning and handling animals significantly benefits health, and not just for the young. In fact, pets may help older adult owners live longer, healthier, and more enjoyable lives.
A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in May of 1999 demonstrated that independently living seniors who have pets tend to have better physical health and mental well-being than those who don't. They're more active, cope better with stress, and have better overall health.
A pet can be a buffer against social isolation, offering an excellent source of companionship and acting as a support system for older adults who don't have family or close friends nearby.
The responsibility of caring for an animal also provides a sense of purpose and the need for a regular daily routine. Routines that incorporate caring for a pet can also help motivate us to exercise, eat and sleep regularly. Walking a dog, for instance, is not only exercise that benefits your pup—taking regular walks helps maintain cardiovascular health and keeps joints limber and flexible.
There are many important considerations when it comes to pets for seniors:
- Make sure that the senior wants and can take on the responsibility of a new pet. Discuss what’s involved in a pet’s care. Would he need to be walked? Bathed? Groomed? What kind of exercise will she need and how often? Will your loved one be able to get to the vet in an emergency? What are all of the expenses associated with owning a dog?
- Hop online and research breeds that will be a good fit for your loved one’s lifestyle and physical abilities. Mixed breed dogs, or mutts, can make great companions, as they often carry many different traits from the dog breeds that comprise their lineage. Many shelters often have full-breed friends waiting for homes, too.
- With breeds in mind, take a trip to the humane society or contact a breeder to arrange a visit and meet the dogs.
- When meeting furry friends face-to-face, consider if the dog’s temperament is a good fit with the owner’s Be sure to spend enough time with the pet you’re considering so you can get a feel for its personality. Is the dog too energetic? Too rough at play? Are these traits that are inherent to the dog and not malleable with proper training? Ask questions! The breeder or shelter staff should be able to fill you in.
- Lastly, before you encourage an older person to adopt a pet, consider whether you could take care of the animal if its owner is no longer able.
Though pets can't replace human relationships for seniors, they can certainly augment them and fill an older person's life with years of constant, unconditional love.
Visit www.hslindependentliving.org to view all of our video stories of friendship in our Power of Friendship series.
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