This article is from our friends at Faith in Action!
How many elderly people do you know who have a pet? Are you elderly yourself? How many elderly people do you know?
Elderly people, in general, can be at risk of social isolation. They are no longer employed, many friends have died, they may have financial considerations and their health may restrict their activities. Feelings of loneliness grow stronger as people age and there is no doubt that pet ownership can provide much-needed companionship for elderly people
Elderly pet owners themselves actually state companionship as the most important criterion in pet ownership, as it is in other groups of people. Plans for the day or even the week may center on rituals with their pets. For some elderly people, their pets are their only friends.
The presence of a pet may help alleviate any loneliness by providing contact with others. Dog-walking owners speak regularly to passers-by about their dogs and also speak directly to their dogs. Cats and other pets provide a topic of conversation.
It is not only companionship that pets can help provide. Retiring from work can leave elderly people with the absence of a role in life. Here, pets can provide the role, motivating the elderly person to keep a routine or simply get up in the morning. People are never too old to play with their pets and the majority of older people do so regularly.
The benefit of a good relationship with a pet can benefit more people than just the elderly owner themselves. In general, pet owners experience improved levels of health and well being. People often consider pet owners to be happier than non-owners and one group of elderly pet owning women was found to have a closer relationship with their husbands than the non-owners. Even rating themselves, elderly pet owners considered themselves more nurturing, independent and optimistic in comparison to non-pet owners. Men who were not pet owners were considered more arrogant and hostile than pet owners and women in general.
Not every elderly person wants to own a pet, even those who were previous pet owners. This decision should be respected and no older person should have to take care of an unwanted gift. Some older people, who do not wish to own a pet, may still desire some contact with animals. Neighbourhood pets and friends and family can oblige here.
Many elderly people would, however, like to own a pet but sadly the absence of suitable support in the form of daily care, suitable housing or finance is absent. Due to the companionship and social benefits that a pet provides, the elderly may benefit most. Having a companion animal gives them a chance to nurture once more.
For many elderly people there is the worry of what would happen to their pet if they should die first. When questioned about any arrangements should they predecease their pet, around half of those questioned had plans which usually included family members, friends or spouse, if present, keeping the pet. Those people with low incomes were more likely to have made plans for their pet.
As with other groups of pet owners, death of a beloved pet can leave an elderly person grief stricken and this is complicated by the fact that they are aware that they may never own another pet in their lifetime.
For those older people who still wish to have the companionship of a friendly pet, other members of society can help. Volunteers can walk dogs, wash and groom pets, provide transport and foster care and give financial assistance where necessary. Many programs of assistance programs have been initiated in other countries and help elderly people keep their pets or at least have regular contact with a companion animal.