As we’ve discussed in earlier posts, seniors living on their own are especially susceptible to the negative effects of social isolation. Social isolation, by definition, is more than just loneliness; it is a distinct lack of interactions with other people, which can negatively affect a person’s physical, mental, and social health. Did you know that social isolation could shorten a person’s life span? To learn more about social isolation, check out our article: Causes and Effects of Social Isolation.
Breaking the Cycle of Loneliness
When a person feels lonely, it’s an emotion often triggered by a sense of loss; this could be related to the loss of a companion, their health, a job, or any number of things. This type of loneliness often leads to further isolation brought on by depression stemming from loneliness – it’s a dangerous and heartbreaking cycle. As we’ve recommended in earlier articles, creating socialization opportunities like visits from friends and family, joining clubs, and volunteering are great ways for seniors to combat loneliness and isolation. Unfortunately, the increased susceptibility of seniors and public limitations due to COVID make a lot of these options harder to accomplish. For more information on helping seniors stay connected during COVID, explore our article Connecting with Seniors – Ways to Help Your Aging Loved One Stay Engaged and Positive During Covid-19
Finding Friendship and Meaning in Pet Ownership
There are several online activities to help seniors cope with isolation, but in-person strategies are limited. Pets, however, create wonderful opportunities for physical, mental, and emotional connections:
Getting Active with a Pet
Having a pet, especially one that requires daily exercise, is a great way for seniors to get up and get moving throughout the day. A thoughtfully selected pet companion, likely a smaller, gentler, low energy dog can help encourage seniors to take daily walks. Pets like cats and birds also encourage daily interaction through engaging play, feeding times, and physical connection.
Staying Mentally Alert to Keep Your Pet Healthy
Pets, like people, need good food, fresh water, exercise, and love to live happy and healthy lives. Creating a strong bond between a senior and a pet offers the senior an opportunity to develop new mental habits and patterns to help their pets live their best lives. Creating feeding schedules, exercise routines, and making time for play and physical connection are all opportunities to help seniors use critical thinking and problem-solving skills allowing the mind to stay active and engaged.
Creating an Emotional Connection with Pets
While getting active and staying mentally engaged are wonderful aspects of pet ownership, far and away, it’s the emotional companionship that aids seniors in living fulfilling lives. Pets, whether dogs, cats, birds, or otherwise provide the unconditional support, love, and companionship that all people need to stay emotionally healthy. Seniors, like most pet owners, can talk, interact, and share an emotional connection with their pets, which helps to create strong, meaningful interpersonal bonds. Taking care of a loved one, even a pet, can give seniors meaningful objectives and goals for each day.
Many seniors, especially those living alone, have the time, resources, and capacity to take care of a pet. If you are interested in pet ownership for seniors, read our article 7 Benefits of Pets for Seniors for more information and visit your local animal shelter today!
If your concerned your loved one would benefit from a pet but may need some extra help caring for the animal, consider reaching out to your local AmeriCare to learn about all the ways in-home caregivers aid seniors (like picking up pet food, helping with walks, creating schedules, etc.)