Social isolation is becoming an increasingly common issue, with one in five Americans reporting they feel lonely, according to a new survey by the Middletown-based senior home care agency Home Instead Inc.
Seniors are especially vulnerable to these feelings, with nearly half saying they often feel lonely, the survey also found. Regular interaction with animals can help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness in older adults, according to Home Instead Inc.
“While we recognize that pet ownership isn’t for everyone, we find that interaction with pets, even on a small scale, can have a big impact on older adults,” Roger Ross, senior care expert and owner of the Home Instead Senior Care in Middletown, said in a prepared statement.
“A simple act like petting a dog, holding a cat or watching a bird can bring so much joy to a senior who may be feeling lonely,” he added.
Additional survey results found that nearly half of older pet owners cited stress relief, sense of purpose and exercise as leading benefits to owning a pet. Pets can also provide loving companionship for older adults who would prefer to age in place, the release said.
In all, 82 percent of senior animal owners surveyed said they would not consider moving to a senior living community without their pet, according to the agency.
Steve Feldman is executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization. “There is a strong connection between heart health and pet ownership or interaction,” Feldman said in the statement.
“Pet owners are more likely to get recommended levels of exercise, have lower blood pressure and experience reduced levels of stress. Pets have even been shown to aid in recovery after a heart attack,” he added.
Home Instead also found that even occasional interactions with pets prove to be beneficial for older adults. Survey results indicate that older adults achieve the same positive feelings when spending time with animals in other capacities, such as visiting with pets owned by family, friends or neighbors.
“This interaction is especially important, as it also provides the opportunity to socialize with other people, further reducing feelings of loneliness,” Ross said. “Our goal is to keep seniors safe and happy in their own homes for as long as possible and many times that includes helping them with their own pet, taking them to dog parks or visiting pet-friendly businesses to gain that animal interaction they desire.”