I was reading an article in the local newspaper today that spoke to the fact that pets are great for the health of individuals as they age. I already knew that but found it interesting to read the reasons why. One of the reasons touched a part of my life because my father struggled with (or more aptly, our family struggled with his) dementia prior to his passing, but no matter what he always remembered that his Chihuahua, Chico, had to be fed, walked and cared for; Chico may have helped keep his memory active longer than it would have without the responsibility of caring for him.
The reasons noted in the article included:
- The power of touch. When I visit my mom in the nursing home on the days when the staff bring their pets in, even the residents who rarely interact with anyone are involved and engaged. The mere feeling of a warm body next to you can be enough to elicit a smile. Consider this, if you are aging and alone you no longer have the comfort of someone to hug you or to hold your hand, if you have a pet you have that warm body with which to snuggle.
- Unconditional love. No matter what your day is like or what your health issues are, your pet loves you no matter what. If you decide not to wear make up and just lie around in bed all day, chances are your pet will be right there with you and he or she will not care if you’ve brushed your teeth or run a comb through your hair.
- The responsibility of a pet may keep you healthier. As I’d mentioned, my father’s dog may have helped keep his memory intact a bit longer than it would have if he hadn’t owned him. Dad may have forgotten to eat his own meals, but he never forgot to feed Chico. Dad may not have remembered he needed to use the restroom until it was almost too late, but he never forgot to walk Chico. He was his constant companion and friend.
- A pet may keep you more active. If I didn’t have Henrietta, I am ashamed to admit that I might not move around as much as I do. She needs to be walked and because she is an active diva Poodle she loves to extend her walks to a mere visit to a patch of grass in the side yard. In addition to that, because I want to make sure she stays healthy, I make sure she (and by default, I) stay active.
- Pets help you make friends. Admit it, if you see someone walking a dog down the road, you are hard-pressed to walk past without asking, “what breed is he” or “what’s her name.” Pets can provide a senior with access to a community he or she may not have had. I know that when my Dad passed and my Mom took over the responsibility of Chico, she would always be greeted with a wave and a smile by her neighbors — something that might not have happened if she hadn’t been out walking the dog. Being solitary as we age can lead to depression and even anxiety and having a pet may just help keep you connected and involved.
I know that when I am having a bad day, just watching Henrietta dashing around the house playing with one of her toys is enough to lift my spirits. When she climbs into my lap and rests her head on my leg and I pet her I can feel the troubles of the day slipping away in the softness of her fur.
What benefits do you think your pets bring to you?