Weeks ago, photos captured Sully, a yellow Labrador retriever, who served as former President George H.W. Bush’s service dog for several months before he died, laying in front of the flag-draped coffin in the Capitol Rotunda. Sully, a service animal wearing a harness with embossed with a presidential seal, reminded us of personal and anecdotal stories of the potential benefits of pet ownership that can support older adults in retaining their physical and mental health, independence, social connectedness and engagement with others.
As research is still emerging on both the benefits and challenges of older adults owning animals, the Washington, D.C.-based The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) is working closely with partners to stimulate scholarship and report evidence-based information on this topic. A 53-page brochure, “The Role of Pets in Healthy Human Active Aging, released on December 17, 2018, is an example of one of the latest compilations of research study findings.
“Everyone interested in aging can benefit by reading this document,” said Ian McDonough, PhD, of the University of Alabama, who served as a peer reviewer. “Older adults can learn about the benefits of taking care of a pet-such as exercise that will be sustained over time, unlike diets or going to the gym. Gerontologists and geriatricians can learn about strong, consistent evidence that pet ownership is association with less depression and stress.”
McDonough said. “Older adults have to pay attention to pets, look for changes in behavior, and watch for traffic, and things on the ground while walking. This could prove to be a simple way of maintaining executive functions and exercising one’s memory.”
Walking Your Pet Can Bring Introduce You to New Friends
Adds former GSA President Barbara Resnick, PhD, RN, CRNP, FAAN, FAANP, FGSA, in the foreword of the brochure, “The interaction with the pet provides companionship for older individuals, but equally important are the relationships that individuals experience by virtue of pet ownership.” Taking your dog for a walk around your neighborhood can be a way of regularly meeting others walking their dogs,” says Resnick. “This area of research provides an opportunity for those wanting to assess the cognitive effects of pet ownership,”
“Working in a continuing care retirement community I have heard from many residents that having a dog has been a great way for them to get to know other residents as the dog serves as an “ice breaker” to talk with
and meet others,”.notes Resnick.
Like Sully, companion animals can make a world of difference for older adults. But the paybacks don’t stop there. A pet rescued from a shelter is a really duel-benefit situation,” McDonough said. “The pet can bring meaning to the life of an older adult, and the older adult is rescuing an animal who might otherwise be put down.”
Hearthstone Estates allows residents who can take care of their pet to bring their furry friends to the assisted living community.
For a copy of the report, go to www.geron.org/images/gsa/documents/TheRoleofPetsinHumanHealthyActive_Aging.pdf