For a lot of older adults or senior citizens, living alone is a simple fact of life. Even if they are still living with family members often they may feel isolated or not up to all the activities that are going on in the family. For seniors that are caring for a spouse or loved one with poor health, it can be a very stressful and difficult time. It almost seems backwards that the "golden" years are often the most challenging, since they are supposed to be a time to relax, sit back, and just enjoy ourselves.
For senior citizens or older adults that are living alone or caring for a partner that is not in good health, having a dog to do things with, to talk to and just spend time with can be a real plus in their day. Dogs are naturally so loving, friendly and happy to be around people that they can fill in the void that many elderly people face every day. Most people, even if they aren't true dog lovers, admit that seeing a dog playing, being greeted with a wagging tail or even having a dog nuzzle their hand or come over and sit beside them is a welcome spot in their day.
This affection and unconditional love that dogs, as well as other pets, can provide is more than just a good feeling. There is more and more research into the positive emotional, social and health benefits that can be measured and tests between those individuals owning pets and those that don’t. The really great finding include the positive brain functioning changes that can occur when people, especially as they age, will experience with continuing interactions with others. Dogs are often a link to that social interaction, helping seniors stay active, stay involved in the community and just get out and spend time with other people.
As people age they tend to become less likely to exercise. This is often due to lack of motivation combined with lack of people to exercise with. Seniors tend to be less likely to join gyms, exercise or fitness clubs or to complete routine walking or other fitness programs on their own. A dog or a puppy can certainly provide motivation for anyone of any age to get out and get walking.
The great thing about dogs or puppies compared to being in a walking group or an exercise class is that the dog is not there to challenge the person's fitness level or athletic ability. Your dog is happy to stroll around the neighborhood or take a power walk along the beach. Choosing the correct breed that is not highly demanding of exercise but is also not a couch potato will help keep motivation up while keeping intensive exercise demands low.
Dogs are an amazing source of human interaction. With a dog on the leash in the park you will find people just come up and strike up a conversation, plus you will also find that you see the same people walking their dogs most days, providing a sort of a social networking opportunity. Often senior adults have a real challenging in meeting other seniors or in getting involved in activities that they enjoy. Through routine dog walking and spending time with their pet in the community many seniors find ways to social themselves.
Doggy off-leash parks, especially outside of peak after and before work times can be a great socialization experience for both the owners and the dogs. Some parks even have groups that meet to share coffee, treats and conversation while their dogs have a great time as well.
Caring for a pet, especially a dog, requires some type of routine. Dogs will get you up in the morning, help you to find motivation to go for a walk, but also require you to feed, groom and care for the dog on a regular basis. Keeping active through routines and daily activities helps in both mental cognition and memory but also in normalizing the day for seniors that may not have any other specific routines to follow.
In May of 1999 the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society published a report that showed that seniors citizens that owned or interacted with dogs on a regular basis found not only better physical health but better mental health in those seniors with pets. They tended to have lower blood pressure, higher mental acuity, better memories and less trips to their doctor. They also tended to be more physically fit and reported being more active than non-pet owners.
Often the isolation or loneliness experienced by many seniors can be minimized or buffered through having a pet to talk to. A dog that sits calmly and listens to whatever you have to say is a great support system, regardless of your age. Seniors that routinely interact with dogs, cats or other pets have a lower rate of depression, suicide and anxiety disorders than seniors without access to pets.
This research is now so pervasive than many retirement communities and assisted living homes have "house" pets that all seniors living in the home or community have access too. These dogs are typically trained therapy dogs, but some are just very friendly dogs that have arrived from shelters or rescues to take up residence with the senior patients in care. The physical contact between the individual and the pet can also be therapeutic. Seniors that routinely brush and care for their dogs often have less difficulty with arthritis, joint pain and muscle atrophy because they are constantly striving to be able to care for their pet.
If a senior citizen can't care for their own pet, having a family member bring a dog by for a visit or a few hours whenever possible can also be a great option for both pet and human. The dogs will love the attention they get and the individual has a chance to care for a dog or just interact with a loving animal.