The Benefits of Pet Ownership for Seniors
There have been many studies about the negative effects of loneliness among senior citizens. Gifts of Gab.org was created to address some of the negative effects of loneliness and social isolation in our older population during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, it is a timely topic to explore and look to ways to combat loneliness in older adults. One of the less conventional, but in my opinion, sweetest options, is pet ownership.
There are many benefits to pet ownership, companionship, a sense of being needed and unconditional love to name a few. In a 2014 study in Aging & Mental Health conducted by surveying patients 60 and over in three different primary care waiting rooms about loneliness and pet ownership. Patients were presented with two statements, “I have a pet” (yes or no) and “In the past two weeks, I have felt lonely,” with the following answer options “not true for me”, “somewhat true for me”, and “very true for me”. (Stanley, I.H., et al. 2014). If the participant chose either of the last two options, they were included in the study on loneliness. This study utilized a single item for the Geriatric Depression Scale (Sheikh & Yesavage, 1986) to determine the presence of loneliness.
The results of this research reported a positive correlation to the hypothesis that pet ownership would lessen feelings of loneliness in the elderly. Pet ownership was thus considered a significant predictor of the presence of loneliness, even after controlling for age, living status, seasonal status and mood.
In conclusion, treating loneliness in our senior citizens just got a whole lot more fun. Owning a pet can provide protective factors, as well as unconditional love and positive regard to senior citizens. If owning a pet is not an option, there are local animal shelters and animal welfare agencies that are looking for volunteers to help socialize cats, dogs, birds and a variety of other homeless animals. For those living in assisted communities, reach out to the community activities coordinators and request pet therapy as an option. Loneliness does not have to be a way of life.
written by Donna Lieblein
Stanley, I. H., Conwell, Y., Bowen, C., & Van Orden, K. A. (2014). Pet ownership may attenuate loneliness among older adult primary care patients who live alone. Aging & mental health, 18(3), 394–399. https://doi.org/10.1080/13607863.2013.837147