Scientifically proven research and studies have attested to the amazingly beneficial impact of pets - on seniors particularly. Increasing evidence confirms the physical, mental, social and emotional benefits of having a pet, especially dogs. The Human-Animal Bond goes back thousands of years. Ancient civilizations and cultures deeply valued the profound connection between humans and animals. Our own Hindu culture revers certain animals like the cow and worships Gods with animal characteristics.
The dog is said to be the first animal domesticated by humans, around 15,000 years ago! Initially used to assist in hunting, as guard dogs and later sport, their scope of activities has been expanded to help people in a myriad ways in the last few decades. The comfort level with humans is ingrained in the DNA of dogs! They know the secret of keeping their owners happy.
The therapeutic benefits of pets are confirmed by the mounting evidence to suggest that companion animals such as dogs enhance the health and lifestyle of elderly people with regard to a wide range of physical and psychological health problems, including Heart diseases, Cancer, Autism Spectrum disorder, Depression. As loved ones move or pass away, and maintaining a social life becomes increasingly difficult, a dog fills the void left by missing family members and friends – a source of great comfort. Social isolation can lead to loneliness, depression, general neglect of oneself and of course, poor all-round health. Dogs provide companionship and help the senior to focus on something other than their medical problems and negative thoughts.
Dogs are the most intelligent, loyal and affectionate animal, who give unconditional love and devotion to their owner. Let us list and count the astonishing ways that keeping dogs as pets can help Elders:
Alleviate Loneliness and boredom – someone to cuddle, play, “talk to” and receive unconditional love in return – no demands, criticism or nagging! Can be quite entertaining with their naughty and quirky ways too.
Maintaining a schedule – tending to a pet provides a routine around which daily life is organized-gives a sense of responsibility and being needed and of value to another being.
Undeniable Health benefits – studies have found that dog-owners have decidedly better over-all health because their pet revitalizes and helps improve their quality of life.
Petting or playing with the dog uplifts your mood and releases Serotonin the Happy hormone, in the brain and reduces the level of the primary stress hormone, Cortisol.
- Lower Blood pressure.
- Lower levels of Triglycerides and Cholesterol.
- Lower risk of heart diseases.
- Lower Anxiety and Depression symptoms.
- Help improve cognitive abilities.
Increased physical Activity and Exercise-tending to the needs of the dog and taking it for necessary walks, helps in weight control.
Walking the dog in the morning aids the elder in absorbing Vitamin D from sunlight and contributes to bone health and mental wellbeing.
Walking with a dog provides an Opportunity to meet like-minded people - dogs make terrific ice-breakers.
Better Self-care, for you need to look presentable to go outdoors.
Developing New Interests, due to increased social interaction.
Sense of Security and Peace of mind-even small dogs can alert you by barking rather sharply at any noise – still a deterrent for robbers.
Dogs can alert other people if their owner is sick or injured, by howling or barking incessantly.
Dogs help in Detecting serious diseases such as Cancer, by repeatedly sniffing at particular areas of their owner’s body that had the disease- thereby alerting the owner who got himself/herself tested and got the life-saving treatment in time!
Dogs make it easier to Cope for seniors already suffering with serious ailments. Alzheimer’s patients have fewer anxious outbursts when they have a pet dog. Touch is one of the last senses to be affected in Alzheimer’s – stroking a dog makes them feel calmer and happier.
Being with a dog significantly lowers Stress hormones like Cortisol and raises levels of calming and happy hormones like Beta-endorphin, Oxytocin, Dopamine.
Some Statistics according to a survey:
- Seniors with dogs make 30% fewer visits to the doctor.
- Over 80% say having the pet helps in alleviating sadness.
- Over 70% say the presence of the dog helps them to feel better when they’re ill.
- Over 95% talk to their dogs and 65% actually confide in them.
- Over 70% say cuddling the dog makes them feel happier.
- A UK study revealed that 94% of Heart patients who had dogs, survived heart attacks – compared to 72% without dogs.
- Dog owners had 25% lower risk of death from various causes and 4 times more likely to meet physical activity guidelines.
Dogs are able to understand their owner’s words and can interpret the tone of voice, body language, gestures and the expression in the eyes, to gauge their mood and emotions – fully attuned to humans now! They also inspire the owner to try and understand the unsaid, by making an extra effort to understand what the dog may want. Looking into a dog’s eyes and seeing the pure love and trust there can make you positively emotional and happy!!
Research has shown that dogs can smell fear, anxiety, sadness and disease, leading to trained Therapy Dogs, to provide comfort and affection to patients in hospitals. There are also Medical alert dogs, Mobility dogs and Guide dogs for various situations. - There have always been trained Police dogs of course.
There are around 400 breeds of dogs in the world. In India, most dogs kept as pets are foreign breeds, though we have some very hardy desi breeds too.
Here is a list of 10 Dogs who would be suitable for Seniors, if so desired.
1. Beagle – compact size, extremely friendly, intelligent and non-fussy eater.
2. Boxer – medium size, intelligent, patient, dependable, protective, gentle and sporty too. Often used as guide dog for blind people. Excellent guard dog.
3. Labrador Retriever – fairly large size, friendly, affectionate, known for strong bonding with humans. Highly obedient but also exuberant.
4. Pug – small size, playful, cute and stubborn. Adaptable, loves staying home but enjoys outdoors too. Ideal for apartments.
5. Cocker Spaniel – medium size, active, smart, gentle happy nature. Can be suitable for apartment too.
6. Golden Retriever – fairly large size, very intelligent, loving, competitive and sporty. Obedient and devoted.
7. Dachshund – small body, come in 2 sizes, 8-9 inches miniature and 13-16 inches standard. Very energetic, clever, alert and brave, very loud bark. Great watch dog too.
8. Pomeranian – small size, active, playful, sharp shrill bark, alert and good as watch dog.
9. Dalmation – medium size, highly energetic, goofy, charming and playful.
10. Indian Pariah or native Indian breed – medium size, intelligent, courageous, very alert, loyal and well-behaved. Easily adaptable, often used as a Police Dog. This breed was one of the first to be domesticated by humans, dating back to the Neolithic era.
Well, it does seem after knowing all the astounding attributes of this animal, that keeping a dog is almost essential for the elderly! But do please consider all the factors and your personal inclinations and circumstances before deciding anything. If you are already a proud dog owner, then congratulations – you are already a beneficiary! Dogs have always been regarded as friends and family members, in a mutually rewarding relationship.
EMOHA is all about Emotional Happiness. Along with Health, Safety, Convenience, Engagement and Emergency. Please do contact us for any kind of assistance. For us, it is always #EldersFirst.