THE BLOG
01/28/2016 04:04 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2017

A Senior's Best Friend: Why Older Adults and Pets Go Together

Pet cats, dogs, birds and fish may be the smallest members of our households, but they claim a big place in our hearts. Our furry, feathered and scaly friends provide unconditional companionship, regardless of our current employment status, physical ability or age. And with more than 144 million pet dogs and cats in the United States, it seems that many folks already recognize these benefits.

As amazing as pets are on their own, even more remarkable is the effect they have on their owners. Numerous studies have shown that pets can not only fill your heart with love but can also boost health outcomes.

For seniors grappling with life transitions like retirement, downsizing to a smaller home, illness or social isolation, the benefits of pet ownership can become even more apparent.

Pets boost mental health
Social isolation and loneliness are real issues for many seniors, and often lead to mental health issues. But what if a simple wagging tail could be the cure?

Research has shown that having pets can reduce tension, improve a person's mood and even help decrease depression. Turns out that the unconditional love, companionship, social interaction and touch that pets provide can help ward off or lessen some of seniors' most pressing mental health challenges.

Pets may be good for your heart
You already know that pets can fill your heart with love, but did you know that they may also help lower your risk of heart disease?

For starters, owning a pet makes you more active--and physical activity is good for your cardiovascular system. In addition, there is some research that shows that owning a pet might play a role in lowering your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, both of which play a role in the likelihood of you developing cardiovascular problems that could be deadly.

Pets can help seniors take better care of themselves
Dogs, cats, birds, fish and other pets require daily care--and that's a good thing.
When older adults have pets for which they're responsible, they may be more motivated take better care of themselves. That could mean being vigilant about taking medications and eating right. And senior pet owners are more likely to make an effort to be active every day (after all, their pets kind of require it) than those without pets.

Pets bring people together in assisted living facilities
Moving is hard on everyone, regardless of age. But what if you could bring your pet with you? More than any furniture or decor, your pet connects you to your past--and can introduce you to the folks who'll be part of your future.

There's a good reason so many senior living facilities have adopted pet-friendly policies. These companies know that their residents want to keep their beloved pets with them, and that pets can make the transition to a new home easier. And these communities get that pets are great at bringing people together.

In many senior living communities, dog lovers connect with dog lovers, cat lovers connect with cat lovers, and so on. In fact, many of these communities today have one or two communal "therapy pets" for all of the residents to enjoy.

----
In the end, everyone benefits from having pets around. The presence of furry friends can make seniors physically healthier, happier and more likely to connect with one another.