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Having crossed 50 and heading closer to the century, many changes happen in your life. You could be missing a partner, kids could have grown up and left the nest, low mobility or illness may be keeping you homebound or you may be just dejected from society leading to social interaction. All of these may be leading to being lonely. Studies, like the one at University of Rochester Medical Centre, show that such a sense of isolation can be alleviated by having a pet. Read on to know how pets can be the secret remedy of loneliness for seniors.
Seniors sometimes decide to shut themselves up indoors, hardly have any social interaction which is a definitive ingredient of depression. Having a pet introduces a living being within the confined spaces and inculcates interaction. Even if the pet isn’t talking, an interaction is initiated through gestures and behavior. In case of dogs, getting out of the house to walk your pet will be a necessity too. With time, the person is likely to get out of his shell and get back into the world. A study done by the Anchor Hanover Group found that seniors with pets began relying on their pets for company and this alleviated their sense of loneliness.
If you don’t already own a pet and are getting into the senior age all alone, the pet may be the miracle you have been waiting for. When a pet comes into the picture the fun and frolic instantly remind you of parenthood. You know the pet can’t communicate but will patiently listen to all that you have to say. You look for the subtle hints similar to a new parent on when the pet may be hungry, or sick etc. Looking after its needs, food, hygiene and fun all brings in a sense of purpose. And if it’s a dog or a cat, you might just let them curl up in bed beside you – just like a child. These activities make you feel happy, social and parent like especially one that’s nurturing a child.
Often a senior needs a cause to be motivated enough to get out of the house and get some exercise. For example: when one has a pet like a dog, who needs regular walks, you will find the reason. With the walk, the body gets a lot of movement which will help you feel healthier. Another example is having a cat. With a cat, comes the need to cleaning up and that gets added to the routine. As you work on the clean-up, exercise comes for free. Other than the work out, pets are known to reduce stress and related ailments like blood pressure and anxiousness.
Laughter is the best medicine or so they say. It can solve many problems and make you feel healthier. Getting a pet into the house could be a riot too and it may prompt you to be more social and give up being sombre. As the bond between the pet and and the master grows, you can notice everything he does just as a child. Most pets have their temperaments and show emotions just like humans. You would know when they are playing, happy, sad and guilty etc. Many of the acts may make you frown and many others will bring a smile on your face. Arkow P. mentions in his paper “Pet Therapy: A Study and Resource Guide for the Use of Companion Animals in Selected Therapies” that loneliness can be brought down in seniors through AAT, or ‘animal-assisted therapy’.
Let’s be honest with age, motivation related to activity reduces and self-doubt kicks in. Psychologists have found that seniors taking task ownership improves their sense of responsibility and in turn promote better mental health. Pets give them company on one hand and need looking after, giving them a responsibility on the other. The caregiver who is senior in our case is responsible for their well-being. If you are new to being a pet parent, you might need to ask around for tips on managing the pet, its behaviour, vaccination and training etc. A boost in self-confidence also kicks in with the new found responsibility.
Alone and lonely some of us at old age are least interested in following a routine. Not having anyone to communicate to or manage, life becomes unstructured and routine is given a pass. All of these further sink the seniors into isolation and depression. A pet comes in as a bundle of joy who you wish to take care off. Pets help rejuvenate a structured routine by ensuring that you are forced to follow a time for all activities in the day. Walks, food, water, bathing, grooming, vet visits everything has a schedule. Once you start following it, a structured routine is created and a sense of achievement ensues. The memory becomes better and so does the overall feel.
A study at University of Rochester Medical Center by psychiatrists on senior patient’s health reporting terminal loneliness had exciting results post getting a pet. Owning a pet helped spread social connectedness and thereby brought down loneliness. Not only did the isolation feeling reverse, but the experiment also proved to the world how having a pet could bring in a magical change in senior lives. So, get out there and get yourself a pet purpose for a better life.