The link between good health and having pets in the home has been well established by multiple studies and is noted on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, among other places. Additionally, these health benefits are not just limited to families with children.
The CDC and numerous studies conducted by a wide range of organizations have shown multiple physical and mental health benefits for the elderly who keep companion pets. For example, PAWSitive Interaction, a nonprofit group dedicated to better understanding the positive impact of the human/animal bond, produced a white paper titled Pets and The Aging: Science Supports the Human/Animal Bond. The paper brings together experts in this field as well as scientific research to more fully explain the benefits to the elderly of pet ownership.
Health benefits include:
• Lower Blood Pressure – Studies have shown that when pet ownership is combined with medication, blood pressure is more easily controlled than in populations that use medication alone.
• Reduced Depression – Simply spending time with a pet dramatically increased production of hormones in the body that regulate well-being and happiness. Production of hormones that are related to stress and anxiety decreased as dramatically.
• Decreased Loneliness – It is common for the elderly to be and feel isolated from the rest of the world. However, having a pet and taking care of it provide reasons for a person to become more engaged with life. They get out for walks more and come into contact with a wider range of people. This in turn acts as a social catalyst between peers and others. A pet also is a companion and provides a sense of responsibility and well-being.
• Increased Heart Attack Survival – One study showed that heart attack survivors who have a pet are four times more likely to live another year or longer.
• Improved Alzheimer's – A Purdue University study found that the presence of aquarium fish has a calming effect and increased appetites at meal time.
Other studies have shown:
Improved Personal Care – Pets act as something of a personal alarm clock to remind the person to care for him or herself in terms of hygiene as well as reminders when to eat (e.g. feed the pet at the same time as dinner).
Regular Exercise – Taking care of a pet, especially a dog that needs to be walked or an animal that responds to play can help seniors get out for regular exercise through walking. This also provides an opportunity to interact with other pet owners as well as neighbors and friends.
Touch – People respond positively to and need regular touch. A pet such as a cat curled up in a lap or dog lying nearby can be very reassuring and relaxing to an older person as well as provide a sense of security.
We could go on, but the bottom line is that a companion pet—whether a bird, cat, dog and so on—can be as much a source of good health and vitality for the elderly as it would provide love and companionship.