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Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows just how special pet companionship can be. But what about the lesser-known health benefits of having pets? Research shows that, for seniors, pet ownership has healing effects that go well beyond emotional comforts.

Pet owners are happier and healthier than the general population

Research shows that people who own pets are, on average, happier and healthier than the general population. In addition to having a heightened self-esteem, pet owners tend to be more physically fit, social, and extroverted than individuals who do not own pets, according to the Allen McConnell of Miami University in Ohio. A survey conducted by the Australian National Heart Foundation also suggests that pet owners have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than those who do not own pets. Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo revealed that individuals on blood pressure medication are less likely to have spikes in blood pressure as a response to outside stimulus when they are pet owners. Furthermore, the American Heart Association has even found a correlation between owning a dog and having a lowered chance of risk for heart failure and heart disease.

All these health benefits are rooted in the evidence that pets can reduce the stress levels of pet owners. Owning a pet leads to higher levels of oxytocin, also known as the love hormone. This chemical release leads to lowered cortisol levels, which have an enormous positive effect on overall well-being. In short, pets make people happy! Happier people are less stressed and tend to be healthier overall. When looking to seniors specifically, these positive health benefits can have a profound impact on quality of life.

Pet ownership improves quality of life for seniors

Many seniors living on their own or in assisted living facilities struggle with loneliness and the depression that arises from being alone. Pets can help confront those emotional issues head-on by providing companionship that is always there. Pets can help seniors become more social with other retired individuals in their home or area, as the joys that pets provide are contagious. Common areas and recreation centers can turn from boring hangouts to sunny social hubs when a pet is thrown into the mix, encouraging seniors to branch out and form connections.

The psychological benefits of companionship, including decreased feelings of loneliness and depression to increased feelings of connectivity, help to further decrease stress levels. By decreasing stress, providing unwavering love and companionship, and bringing a constant, positive source of happiness to seniors' lives, pets are a perfect example of the link between happiness and health. Pets make seniors happy, which can help with a wide range of health outcomes, further increasing happiness and boosting overall quality of life.

Picking the right pet for seniors

It is important to understand that all these health and happiness benefits will only be present if seniors choose the right pet for them. In general, seniors may not be the best fit for younger pets like newborn puppies, since training a young pet can add a whole lot of stress to a pet owner's life. Additionally, seniors may not benefit from some specialty pets that have expensive upkeep, since many retired people are living on a budget.

One great solution for seniors is to adopt older pets, who can share retirement with their elderly owners. Older cats and dogs that are already trained and well-mannered provide all the benefits of great companionship without a lot of the stressors or behavioral issues. And, older dogs usually don't need quite as much exercise, which may be more manageable for seniors. In general, when picking a pet for a senior owner, be honest about how much time and energy the older pet owner has to dedicate to their pet, what they are capable of doing to keep their pet happy on a daily basis, and any financial constraints that may make owning some pets difficult. If those factors are kept in mind when choosing a pet, pet ownership can be an incredible joy for seniors and provide some great health benefits in the process.

For these reasons and more, Country Club Village Retirement Community is pet-friendly and will always welcome cats and dogs. For more features, benefits, and reasons why Country Club Village is truly a place to belong, email Vicky Shuffield at Country Club Retirement Community, [email protected], or call 501-617-7879.

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