A study done in Scotland was recently published in the Journal of Preventative Medicine. The study assessed the mental and physical well-being of 547 pensioners, folks over the age of 65, with an average age of 79 from the Scottish city of Dundee and the surrounding area. Among the sample, nine percent or about 50 people owned a dog. Of those, about 75 percent said they walked their dog regularly.
There are many studies that talk about the benefits of pet ownership, namely the positive effects on health, but this study is the first that looked at people specifically over the age of 65.
As you might imagine, people who own, or even those who simply walk, a dog experience lower heart rates and blood pressure, better general health and report less anxiety and depression.
A popular topic of study is late-life depression. Research findings show there is a high percentage of loneliness, depression and isolation among the older population. While there are several factors that contribute to this, like medical problems and death of family and friends, there are some strategies to try to reduce the prevalence of depression.
This Scotland study suggests that an older person doesn’t necessarily need to own a dog, but just needs to find one to walk. Should they “borrow” a dog every day? Should they be a part of a “dog share” program with other seniors? What if they are part of a group of dog walkers and walk the dogs of working folks in their communities?
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It is very common for people to experience periods of loneliness in life. Studies have shown that one-quarter of all adults experience painful loneliness every few weeks, and the incidence in adolescents and college students is even higher. Loneliness can be defined as:
- Being alone and you don’t choose to be by yourself
- Not having attachments that you may have had in the past
- Finding yourself in an unfamiliar situation; like a new city or a new job
- Feeling as though you have no one with which to share experiences or problems
- Having a poor perception of yourself as not being capable of engaging in relationships with others
Feeling lonely does not mean you have a flaw in your personality. It should not be viewed as a situation that cannot be changed. It is important to realize that you have some control over your level of loneliness. Being socially connected is an important concept as it is central to a person’s overall sense of well-being. National studies have concluded that having a strong social connectedness (e.g. to a neighborhood or larger community) and healthy relationships, leads to a higher quality of life and a greater ability to contribute to the health of the community. Being socially isolated long-term can lead to mental and physical health problems.
Many people turn to pets when they feel lonely or isolated. Pets provide a sense of responsibility and purposefulness. Pets, especially dogs, encourage you to develop an exercise routine, which then leads to a greater chance of being social. Walking a dog invites other people to stop and pet your dog and then have a conversation with you. There is also a tremendous sense of comfort that comes with a pet relationship. Petting an animal has been proven to reduce stress levels in people, and to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Owning and taking care of a pet is one way to reduce feelings of loneliness.
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The full article can be found HERE