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People who keep pets tend to live longer than those who don't. Research has shown that pets can help make significant changes in a person's health, lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and feelings of stress, while increasing activity levels, alertness and a sense of responsibility. Studies also have shown that pets aid in recovery; for example, people who have suffered heart attacks tend to recover more quickly and more fully when they have the company of a pet. However, the biggest benefit that pets offer their owners, particularly older owners who live alone, is a cure for loneliness. Love is the most important tonic we have, and pets are one of nature's best sources.
According to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, caring for a cat or dog helps people overcome the depression or loneliness that sometimes comes with age and isolation. Whether they've recently lost a loved one, they don't have any friends or family nearby or physical limitations make it difficult for them to get out much, older individuals who care for a pet experience an enhanced feeling of companionship and purpose. Pets can give an older adult a great sense of self and help increase self-esteem since pets need and rely on their owners for virtually every aspect of their care.
Pet owners also benefit from the unconditional love and affection their pets give them. Just the presence of a pet helps older adults realize they are not alone. Additionally, having a pet, especially a dog, can give seniors a sense of security and reduce feelings of vulnerability just by the barking, which can keep unwanted visitors away. Keeping a dog who can warn of intruders can provide a source of comfort for many people.
While having a pet can be good for some seniors, don't rush out and buy a dog or cat as a "surprise" for an older adult. Pet ownership is a big responsibility. Discuss pet adoption and ownership with anyone before you get them an animal or if you know they are considering one. The American Humane Society offers some suggestions for older people and families considering a pet:
Pets can have a positive impact on their owners' lives. Living alone can be difficult for anyone. With a loving pet by your side, you are not alone.