PRIMETIME: Seniors with pets healthier

Published 3:48 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Researchers have found pets to have social, mental and physical benefits for everyone, but most importantly senior citizens who are looking for companionship.

“A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing found elderly pet owners are significantly healthier than their ‘petless’ counterparts,” John VanZile said in an article written for Life Extension Foundation. “This study is part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that elderly pet owners have lower blood pressure and stress levels, get more exercise and generally are healthier than older people without pets.”

Lucinda Boright, Ph.D., who has been practicing for 18 years and owns a private practice in Ironton, said pets give people something to live for.

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“It’s a reason to get up in the morning,” she said. “It’s calming to touch, they don’t hold grudges and they are always glad to see you.”

She said a person’s mood is improved quickly in the presence of a dog.

“It releases endorphins in the brain,” she said. “That’s what makes us feel good.”

According to Cat Care: Pets for seniors, an article written by the American Animal Hospital Association, senior citizens with pets are more active, cope with stress better and have better overall health.

The article stated having pets requires actions from owners and the actions lead to a constant daily routine, which is important to one’s health. Walking, grooming, feeding and other activities provide cardiovascular exercise and keep joints flexible.

Researchers found physical contact lowered a person’s temperature, stress level and blood pressure, and those who were pet owners remained calmer during stressful situations.

The article sites a study done by Eden Alternative, an experimental nursing home.

The nursing home houses 100 birds, cats and dogs indoor and rabbits and chickens outdoors.

The home has experienced a 15 percent lower mortality rate in comparison to other nursing homes without pets.

“Though pets can’t replace human relationships for seniors, they can certain augment them,” the article stated. “And, they can fill an older person’s life with years of constant unconditional love.”

Ed Kane, the author of For Seniors: Pets are just plain healthy, said seniors with pets tend to go to the doctor less often, have better psychological wellbeing and have a higher one-year survival rate after coronary heart disease surgery.

Pets, especially dogs, are conversation starters for people who don’t have know each other, Kane said.

He also said lower rates of depression are reported by people who have lost their spouses, but have pets.

Animals can be adopted at the Lawrence County Humane Society.