Can Animals Improve our Wellbeing as we Age?
Research suggests that pets can offer a multitude of health benefits to older people, both bodily and psychological. At our Wellbeing centres, therapy animals are being used to improve customer wellness.
June McNicholas is an expert on the relationship between pets and older pet-owners. She found in her recent study that pets and animals have the potential to improve the physical, emotional, and social wellbeing of older pet-owners. Ms McNicholas suggests that professionals within the elder care industry should preserve pet ownership within older people wherever possible.
Pet-owning has been found to have a positive effect on blood pressure and cholesterol levels of older people. It’s also been linked with lower levels of triglyceride, the main constituent of body fats in humans. The physical input required in the care schedules of cats and dogs especially can improve physical health. Activities such as walks, or energetic play, can improve cardiovascular health, build stamina, and improve bone and muscle strength.
Social wellbeing can also be improved with pet ownership. Taking pets on walks can lead to interactions with fellow pet-owners – even simply owning a pet is a conversation starter. Research demonstrates that pet owners are 60% more likely than non-pet-owners to get to know people in their local areas. For the older generation, who are more likely to suffer from loneliness and bereavement, this companionship is especially important.
Mentally, animal-human interaction can have an incredible impact. Pets’ needs often require owners to stick to a routine, for example, which has been found to reduce stress. Even simple contact with animals can dramatically improve depression and anxiety.
Obviously, animals can also be helpful in service capacities, as Seeing Eye dogs, Hearing Dogs, or Seizure Dogs, for example.
With around half of the UK’s adult population owning pets, we’re a nation of animal lovers. We asked you whether you thought pets, and interaction with animals, was beneficial to older people.
“I think that any pet improves your mental health when you’re older. They keep you company – you have something to cuddle, and look after.” – Julie Bradley, aged sixty four.
“Pets are helpful with sustaining wellbeing as we get older. They give a lot back to their owners unconditionally.” – Sue Flemming, aged sixty eight.
“My dad is sixty four and his dogs definitely helped him when my mum died. They gave him something to do – a reason to go out each day. They help you feel less alone.” – Scott Dolan.
“Pets are company, loving, and help with depression. There are also health benefits with walking dogs and the social interaction with others you meet on the walks.” – Janet Grantham, aged fifty five.
How We Help
The recent suggestion of ‘robopets’ as a solution to ending loneliness in the older population means that ‘therapy animals’ are trending news right now. Interestingly, the UK’s most popular therapy animal, rather than the perhaps expected cat or dog, is the hen. This has spawned the term ‘hensioner’ for those older fans of the poultry companion.
Whilst we recognise all of the discussed benefits which pets offer to the lives of older people, it is a sad fact that not everyone in later life is able to have or keep their own pet. But, at our wellbeing centres in North Shields, Killingworth, and Wallsend, all customers have the opportunity to experience AAT through use of Pets As Wellbeing ambassadors.
With PAW ambassadors, customers are able to interact with furry friends, and even take them for small walks within our enclosed and accessible gardens. This means they are able to reap the benefits of human-animal contact without the additional costs and responsibilities that a pet might incur. At our Killingworth wellbeing centre customers have also been invited to interact with Hearing Dogs for Deaf people. These experiences have proven to be very popular, with customers not only enjoying the cuddles, strokes, and treats they were able to give the dogs, but also the memories of their own previous pets.
Of course, AAT isn’t the only fun and beneficial activity on offer at our welfare centres. We also offer customers the chance to express themselves musically and artistically and ‘exercise snacking’ to maintain physical health whatever your fitness level. Our customers also love ‘brain training’ puzzles, and the chance to take part in Maintenance Cognitive Stimulation Therapy, a fun weekly session helping individuals with dementia.
For information on how you can secure a free half day trial in one of our wellbeing centres, please visit: https://www.everydayuk.org/wellbeing/, or call 0191 287 7028
Article by Summer Dolan ( Marketing Intern)