Pets and the Elderly
The role of pets in the lives of the aged is particularly significant for those who live in a nursing home or in assisted care. Numerous studies show pets provide one of the few interventions capable of permanently lifting the atmosphere of hospices and nursing homes. Despite all this evidence, many nursing homes still do not allow pets, and fear of giving up their animal companion is a serious concern for many in the community. For older people still living in their own home, pet ownership has many benefits including social facilitation and companionship as well as increased activity levels.
- An intervention study using Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) was conducted by Richeson et al to measure the effects on the subjective wellbeing of 37 nursing home residents. The residents, with no recorded cognitive impairments (mean age 82.5 years), were randomly assigned to one of three groups: control, AAT, or student visitors. The AAT group showed statistically significant increases in overall satisfaction with life when compared to the control and student-visitors groups, and statistically significant increases on the feelings ‘enthusiastic’, ‘attentive’, ‘interested’, and ‘inspired’ when compared to the control group.1
- An Australian study by Patricia Crowley found that 18 months after acquiring a Whippet, residents of a nursing home had reduced tension and confusion and reported less fatigue.2
- Associate Professor of Nursing at the University of Michigan, Mara Baun, has demonstrated that pets can induce a social response from people with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, even those who do not respond to people.3
- A study of a dog in a hospice showed than patients spent less time alone than before the dog arrived, and staff members reported it gave everyone something to talk about.4
- A substantial Canadian study by Professor Parminder Raina of 1,054 elderly citizens aged over 65, revealed pet owners are more able to maintain activities of daily living (ADL) over a one year period.5 Dogs in particular help keep people active and provide a routine and a reason to get up in the morning.
- Similar findings came from a Japanese study which investigated the relationship between pet ownership and the level of daily activity (used as a measure of general health) in elderly women living at home. They found that there was a positive correlation between pet ownership and the level of instrumental activity of daily living (IADL). Saito et al concluded that it is possible that keeping a companion animal may be linked to better overall health in the elderly.6
- Richeson, NE, & McCullough WT, 2003, ‘A therapeutic recreation intervention using animal-assisted therapy: effects on the subjective well-being of older adults.’ Annual in Therapeutic Recreation, vol. 12, pp.1-6.
- Crowley-Robinson, P, Fenwick, DC, & Blackshaw, JK, 1996, ‘A long term study of elderly people in nursing homes with visiting and resident dogs’, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 47, pp. 137-148.
- Baun, MM, 1995, ‘The effect of a therapy dog on socialization and physiologic indicators of stress in persons diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease’, 1995, Animals Health and Quality of Life: 7th International Conference on Human-Animal Interactions, Geneva, September.
- Hogarth-Scott, S, Salmon, I, & Lavelle, R, 1983, ‘A dog in residence’, People- Animals-Environment, vol.1, pp. 4-6.
- Raina, P, 1995, ’The impact of pet ownership on the functional transitions among elderly’, 1995, Animals, Health and Quality of Life: 7th International Conference on Human-Animal Interactions, Geneva, September.
- Saito, TM, & Okada, et al, 2001, ‘Relationship between keeping a companion animal and instrumental activity of daily living (IADL). A study of Japanese elderly living at home in Satomi Village’, Nippon Koshu Eisei Zasshi, vol. 48, no.1, pp. 47-55.