Mitch recently worked with us on his father’s estate plan. He mentioned how much his dad has enjoyed having a companion dog. We’ve been hearing more lately about service dogs in general. From our perspective, it brings up questions about seniors, aging and companion pets.
Who can benefit from companion pets, how do they help, and is there ever a downside? Like most things in life, it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
The benefits of companion pets for seniors
The effects of pets on mental and physical health have been the focus of many studies throughout the U.S., Europe, and in other parts of the world. Our brief online search didn’t surface any large-scale research on the subject, but the smaller studies we found offered helpful, if tentative insights.
Research on pet ownership and seniors
The American Heart Association, for offers a documented scientific statement from 2013 that dog ownership may play a role in the reduction of cardiovascular disease. You can download that statement here.
The Centers for Disease Control suggests that pet ownership lowers blood pressure and decreases levels of both cholesterol and triglycerides. Decreased feelings of loneliness are also suggested.
A 2011 article in the European Journal of Medical Research outlined research done in Austria regarding the effect of dogs on their elderly owners. The study was not extensive, but offers food for thought.
Interviews led the researchers to believe that seniors derive great benefit from the dogs they own and care for. The dogs offer companionship, a sense of purpose, and daily structure. In the course of walking their dogs, for example, seniors meet new people and socialize more.
Comments made by interviewees remind us of Mitch’s description of his dad’s experience. Some of these might reflect your own experience.
- “My dog notices if I’m doing well or not. I talk to him; there is always someone in the apartment, and I’m not alone.”
- “He watches over me; he gives me a purpose.”
- “I have to go outside with him and exercise: this is also good for me.”
- “When I’m outside with my dog, I always meet new people and chat with them.”
- “I wouldn’t want to be without my dog!”
Although we don’t have conclusive research from a major study, it seems reasonable to believe that most seniors would benefit from having a pet. In general, they can expect to enjoy a richer life and better health.
Pets offer a sense of routine and purpose
Dogs and cats differ of course, but they both require care and feeding. In the course of performing those duties, a pet owner feels a sense of responsibility and a reason for getting up in the morning. Seniors get the psychological and emotional benefits in the comfort of their own home, and in some long term care communities.
Dogs offer security and protection
It doesn’t take a well-funded study to demonstrate the value of a pet as it relates to security. That’s true for people of every age. Seniors, however, often have a more acute sense of insecurity than the rest of us.
Because they provide so much in the way of companionship, dogs are a great alternative or supplement to an electronic security system. Not all dogs, however, do a great job of guarding against intruders.
Having a companion pet isn’t an automatic solution for everyone. Some people have a fear of dogs. Others have allergies to cats. Properly caring for either one of them requires time, attention, and sometimes physical strength. Beyond the required effort, another potential downside is the emotional impact when the pet dies.
Seniors sometimes find alternative ways to enjoy the benefits of a pet. Consider a pet care service, for example, that provides home visits, walks the dog, or changes the litter box. Another possible consideration is one like CHAMP Assistance Dogs, an organization that offers dogs for a variety of situations.
Options – when seniors can’t care for their own pet
Seniors can’t always properly care for their own pet. There are, however, alternative ways to enjoy the benefits of a cat or a dog. Consider a pet care service, for example, that provides home visits, walks the dog, or changes the litter box. Another possible consideration is one like CHAMP Assistance Dogs, an organization in St. Louis that offers dogs for a variety of situations.
How will estate planning help you protect your wealth, secure a better future for your family, and protects their interests? Call Quinn Estate & Elder Law to find out. You can reach us at 636-686-6790.