As people age, their lives change to varying degrees. Many senior citizens experience mobility limitations, and some seniors lose mobility all together. Health complications can set in, and the activities, exercise, and social engagements that they once used to enjoy may be difficult to participate in.
This can lead to isolation. Isolation can lead to loneliness, as well as decreased exercise. Both of which can cause low mood and depression. No one wants that!
If you or someone you love is elderly, the social isolation that comes with living alone doesn’t have to negatively affect your mental and physical health. By simply welcoming your home to a puppy and opening your heart to the journey that comes with dog companionship, you can improve your mood, health, and overall happiness.
According to the Pets for the Elderly Foundation, pet companionship offers proven benefits to seniors, which we’ll go over in this article. Unlike any other pets such as cats, birds, or rabbits, dogs in particular provide the added benefit of being helpers and assistants to their elderly owners. Dogs have even been known to bark for help and even fetch phones when their owners have fallen, hurt themselves, and were unable to get up!
Having a dog can help your heart—literally! If that sounds like quite a statement, Harvard Health Publishing from the Harvard Medical School didn’t just make the statement, they titled an article with that exact headline! The article goes on to detail that there is a growing body of evidence that suggests having a dog improves cardiovascular health in people of all ages, especially the elderly.
Now this doesn’t mean that a puppy will cure your elderly loved one of their cardiovascular health issues if they have any. But it does mean that living with a puppy or dog lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, and has a calming effect, all of which can alleviate strain and stress on the heart.
If and when isolation sets in for an elderly person, it might not be due to physical limitations. Sometimes a person just needs a good reason to get up and get moving. Having a puppy or dog is the perfect motivating factor to take a nice walk around the block a few times a day. For the elderly, this can make all the difference in the world.
By increasing activity by merely a few walks or trips to the dog park per day, an elderly person can lower their LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) by as much as 15% while increasing HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) by a whopping 20%! Don’t believe us? Check out what WebMD has to say on the subject of walking and cholesterol.
Research also shows that people who own and take care of dogs tend to take better care of themselves, and the elderly are no exception to this trend. Caring for a pet helps a person develop and maintain a fixed routine, and having a companion while living a fixed routine day-to-day can help give the elderly person an added sense of purpose.
Newton’s first law of motion tells us that an object in motion stays in motion, and this law applies to the elderly as well when their puppies have helped them establish a consistent, daily routine that includes walking at set times, eating at set times, and bathing and grooming regularly. Elderly people with dogs find that they complete other tasks and long-term projects easily and with more enthusiasm than they would have if they were still living all alone.
Assistance with Physical Tasks
There’s a reason that the one and only certified service and therapy animals are dogs. Unlike any other pet animal, dogs have a deeply ingrained nature to assist and be of service to their owners. Due to their high intelligence and keen intuition, dogs are able to anticipate the needs of their owners and also sense when something is wrong. In fact, some dogs can smell if blood sugar is out of whack in their diabetic owners!
Whether an elderly person needs help getting their shoes and drawers opened in their home, or they need more involved physical assistance, the right dog breed will be ready, willing, and able to rise to the challenge.
SOCIAL & EMOTIONAL BENEFITS
Surprising as it may seem, having a dog around the home can effectively decrease feelings of loneliness for the elderly. Dogs are natural companions, but what makes them so special is their ability to give and receive love and affection. When an elderly person receives unconditional love and nudges from their puppy to cuddle or play, the person will feel needed and loved. And it’s a two-way street!
Health research and studies show that taking care of others and being giving can elevate your mood. Likewise, giving and receiving physical touch with a pet offers nearly as many mental and emotional health benefits as hugging a human loved one.
To elaborate on the previous benefit, the reason that a person’s mood elevates when they pet, hug, and otherwise love their puppy is due to a serotonin boost in the brain. Serotonin is the brain’s “feel good” chemical, and just by petting a dog, your brain will produce this happy hormone.
This can do wonders for an elderly person who lives alone. As serotonin rises in the brain, it suppresses, reduces, and even blocks other “stress” hormones, such as cortisol. Ultimately, this can lead to a perceptible decrease in mental and emotional stress, which also decreases physical stress on the heart. Being relaxed and feeling safe are great for the human heart.
The slow, gradual process of aging can bring with it feelings of personal discouragement that creep in over time. It can be frustrating to lose aspects of mobility, physical agility and strength, and even those youthful good looks! For seniors who feel discouraged by their age, appearance, or abilities, having a puppy can remind them that they’re important, needed, and loved.
Having a pet to take care of, one that also helps get you physically motivated to take walks, can positively impact self-esteem for the elderly. Seniors will more readily accept themselves as they are and see themselves and their abilities, no matter how limited, in a positive light.
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE GETTING A PUPPY FOR YOUR ELDERLY LOVED ONE
If you’re reading this article with an elderly friend or loved one in mind, then before you surprise your senior loved one with a puppy, there are some things to consider. Depending on your answer, you may need to be more or less involved in the overall caretaking of the dog long-term.
Is Your Loved One an Experienced Dog Owner?
Puppies require training and housebreaking, and even dogs need to receive commands in order to learn the ropes. This won’t phase someone who has owned a dog before, but the entire idea could be overwhelming to someone who has never owned a dog before. We recommend talking to your senior about the possibility of getting either a puppy or a dog, and go over the benefits as well as the responsibilities that come with dog ownership in order to help your elderly loved one make the right decision.
Are Finances an Issue?
Again, you wouldn’t want to surprise your senior loved one with a puppy if you aren’t certain they can afford the costs associated with caring for a dog long term. Dogs require a lot of care, which could be considered expensive depending on the senior’s financial situation. Plus, there are additional costs to think about such as health care, trips to the vet, and common day-to-day expenses like food, toys, poop bags, and the list goes on.
Should You Get Your Elderly Loved One a Puppy or an Adult Dog?
Perhaps the most important question to consider once you’re sure that you do, in fact, want to get a dog for your senior is this. Should you get a puppy or a full-grown dog? There are upsides and downsides to both options. Puppies will obviously have much higher energy and will need to be trained and housebroken. Depending on the energy level of your elderly loved one, training a puppy could actually come as a welcomed project that they’ll love. But it’s important to discuss the subject with them. An older dog, for example, will come trained, but you know what they say about old dogs…
If you’re leaning towards getting a puppy, but don’t personally have the extra time to assist your elderly loved one with the hands-on training process they’ll need to use with their puppy, consider getting a puppy from PuppyBuddy.
We offer a 6-week puppy training program for all of our PuppyBuddy pups! This program is comprehensive and will completely train your puppy. And best of all, it provides a wonderful bonding experience between your elderly loved one and their brand-new puppy!