By Les Goldberg
If you are over 50 and own a pet – dog, cat, tropical fish, bunny or frog – chances are you are better off, both physically and mentally, and may actually live longer. That is the opinion of experts who have studied the effects of pet ownership by seniors.
“Pets can have a direct influence on your health, from lowering your blood pressure and increasing levels of serotonin (the body chemical that constricts blood vessels during injuries and can effect emotional states) to helping you get more exercise,” according to Dr. Patricia McConnell, author of For the Love of a Dog.
She adds that well-managed pet therapy programs in nursing homes have been shown to reduce depression and even help mitigate the social withdrawal that is often associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
The studies show that seniors with pets not only talk more, but do not dwell in the past as much as non-pet owners. Instead, they discuss current interests and activities, and are better able to form new friendships based on their common involvement with their pets.
So how, exactly, does pet companionship benefit the older generations?
- Increased mobility from grooming, petting and walking an animal
- Enhanced physical skills through intensive therapy from riding horses, hiking or swimming with dogs
- Increased exercise from caring for the demands of a pet
- Lowered blood pressure and reduced stress from the gentle nature of the nonjudgmental relationship (animals don’t argue)
- Increased sense of caring and gentleness as many animals instinctively nurture ailing humans
- Increased self-esteem as seniors realize they are capable of caring for their pet and the animal responds by returning the affection
- Decreased anxiety and depression
- Decreased loneliness
- Increased social interaction with others
- Higher comfort levels with other family members who can focus on the animal rather than ailments.
- Increased memory stimulation by meeting daily care needs
- Better mental stimulation by contact with other pet owners, veterinarians, pet store clerks and visitors
Now that you’ve decided to become a pet owner or caretaker, it is important to consider how to select the right animal for you and plan for its care. After all, Fido, or Sylvester, or Kermit will be part of your family. Ask yourself:
1. What is my lifestyle and activity level? Dogs, for instance, make wonderful companions but demand greater care and training than cats, birds or fish.
2. Am I staying in my current home or will I be moving to an assisted living facility? What are the pet policies of the retirement facility?
3. Do I have any health issues, like allergies, that would prevent pet ownership?
4. Can I afford the extra costs of owning a pet, including food, cat litter, vet bills and medications?
(You may want to look into the cost of pet medical insurance – it’s expensive, especially for seniors on fixed incomes.)
5. Am I emotionally prepared for a time when you will need to deal with the loss of a pet, either from your sudden inability to care for the animal, or when the pet dies or is lost and not found?
6. Who can I trust with the care of my pet when I can’t do it anymore?
Fortunately, there are alternatives to pet ownership that can alleviate many of these concerns. One of them is progressive nursing homes that encourage pet therapy as a way to reduce loneliness, helplessness and boredom. And there are organizations, like Senior Dogs 4 Seniors and PAWS, sponsored by the Orange County SPCA, which takes their special dogs to visit hospitals, nursing homes and other senior medical care facilities.
If you want to explore the possibility of pet ownership, visit the Orange County website, http://egov.ocgov.com and click “List of Shelters” where you can find every variety of dog or cat and feel gratified about rescuing them from a dismal fate. One thing is for sure, you will find their love is unconditional.
Les Goldberg, APR is an award-winning, experienced journalist and public relations practitioner. His firm, Les Goldberg Public Relations, is one of Southern California’s pioneer public relations agencies specializing in high technology and consumer electronics.
Throughout his career Les has shared his knowledge and experience as a part-time professor for the marketing and business schools at several Southern California universities, including UCI, Chapman University and California State Universities in Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles and Dominguez Hills.
Today, in addition to his agency and teaching responsibilities, Les is a columnist for senior publications, including his popular “The Gadget Geezer” column which appears in Senior Reporter, Not Born Yesterday, Life After 50, Examiner.com and OCActiveSeniors.com. As a full-time journalist, he was a staff writer for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, Glendale News-Press, Culver City Star-News, Stars & Stripes Europe, OC Metro, OC Home & Outdoors and Digital Photographer.
Among the companies that have benefited from Les Goldberg’s brand of public relations include Doctors Telehealth Network, AST Research, Ashton-Tate, US Robotics, Phoenix Technologies, Odetics, MAI/Basic Four, American Home Theater, Inland Technologies; Freedom Innovations, Flex-Foot, Incline SoftWorks, USA Wireless Inc., D-Link Systems, Bell Micro, Seiko Instruments and Etak, Inc., a division of Sony.
Les holds a Certificate in Public Relations from UCLA, bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge and accreditation (APR) from the Public Relations Society of America where he served two terms as president of the Orange County chapter and member of the PRSA National Board of Directors. A past winner of the chapter’s Distinguished Service Award, he has been frequently honored for his achievements and contributions to his profession and his community.
Visit Les’s site at www.LesGoldberg.com