Pets improve mental and physical health of the elderly

elderly health benefits animals

A new report collects all the research on the health benefits of owning a pet.

As the world’s population ages and people are expected to live longer than ever, governments are increasingly looking for ways to reduce the pressure on their healthcare systems. The costs associated with chronic conditions and illnesses associated with an ageing population must be managed in order for other services not to suffer and so prices don’t become prohibitive.

A new report published by the International Federation on Ageing reviews the studies carried out on the health impacts of pets on older people between 1980 and 2013. The first-of-its-kind report, entitled, Companion Animals and the Health of Older Persons, explores how pets contribute to physical, mental, and social wellbeing of older people.

There have been several studies on the health benefits of owning a pet with the results showing having a pet can lower your blood pressure, reduce the incidence of asthma in children, and improve your mental health. This report is the first time various studies have been brought together in one resource.

“This field of research has important implications across generations and also for the future of our broader societies,” says Dr. Jane Barratt, International Federation on Ageing.  “Many studies have broadly discussed how pets, such as dogs and cats, contribute to health by reducing anxiety, loneliness and depression, but until today have not yet been published in a single resource.

“This new report advances our understanding of the value of companion animals in the framework of human health and the broader society.”

The therapeutic benefits of companion animals is an area of study which is attracting increasing interest among health and social science researchers. Having a pet in the house can improve a child’s behaviour, lower their risk of allergy or asthma, teach them responsibility, and provide a sense of security.

For older people with a pet, benefits include reduced feelings of loneliness, a sense of purpose, and an opportunity to meet and socialise with people (particularly with regards to dogs) – these all boost mental wellbeing. The physical advantages include lower blood pressure, reduced risk of stroke, and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

While dogs encourage their owners to exercise and socialise more than a cat might, the health benefits of a pet extend to any animal. Even watching fish in an aquarium will lower your blood pressure and relax you.

“The interaction between humans and animals is powerful. Animals can educate, motivate, and enhance the quality of life for people around the world,” says Michael Devoy, Chief Medical Officer, Bayer HealthCare. “Given the scope of this report, we are excited that this research has the ability to reach human healthcare practitioners, veterinarians, doctors, nurses, gerontologists, and social workers.”