Dogs and cats can provide much needed love and companionship for elderly people living on their own. But is there ever a situation when it may be better for a senior citizen to forego pet ownership? The experts at Harvard Medical School say that the answer is yes…in certain circumstances.
Studies show that people, including the elderly, can benefit both psychologically and physically from pet ownership. Dogs and cats provide us with emotional security by displaying unconditional love. Caring for a pet can also provide seniors with a sense of purpose, experts note. These psychological benefits can translate into physical benefits like lower blood pressure and increased “feel good” chemicals in the brain, not to mention the exercise you get from walking a dog or playing with a cat.
So what’s the downside for seniors? The Harvard experts note that having a dog or cat underfoot can pose a health hazard for older adults with gait and stability problems. Tripping over a pet can lead to broken bones in some cases. Seniors with weakened or compromised immune systems may be at greater risk for bacterial and parasitic infections carried by animals, as well as allergies.
What’s the best advice for seniors thinking about getting a pet? They should think honestly about their physical ability to care for a pet…and also their cognitive ability in the case of memory impairment. Pets can also be a big financial responsibility for people on fixed incomes.
Seniors who do feel up to caring for a pet should consider an animal that’s not too large or too small in size. Raising a puppy can be a challenge in terms of the time and energy needed to devote to training. Rescuing an adult pet from an animal shelter is a great option for seniors looking for a new best friend!