The Power of a Pet’s Companionship
Many years ago, when I took my beloved family dog, Lola, to the vet for her annual physical, she did as she always does – the instant she saw the office (and figured out that a needle likely awaited her inside), she trembled, whimpered, and began pulling me in the opposite direction. Her shaking continued as the vet examined her. While he was listening to her heart with his stethoscope, I stepped forward and petted Lola, whispering reassurances in her ear. Dr. Watson looked up and said, “Now that’s better. Her heart slowed right down the second you touched her.” I was amazed how such a small gesture could convey enough of a sense of security and love that it would have such an immediate calming effect. And it made me wonder whether the reverse is true – is the affection we receive from our pets a similar tonic for our souls?
The answer is a resounding yes! And for seniors, the tonic is especially sweet. Research studies have revealed the many benefits of pet ownership for seniors. As we age and our physical capacities diminish, the risks of loneliness, isolation and depression grow. This is especially true if dementia takes hold. Below are just a few of the ways that developing a bond with an animal can fight back against some of these negative forces.
Companionship – A pet provides a constant and loyal companion, one that usually showers its owner with unconditional love. Not only is a pet good, affectionate company, but also it represents a commitment to caring for another being, which, in itself, is a form of active, unselfish companionship.
Stress and Anxiety Reduction – A study out of Australia found that 94% of people reported a reduction in their feelings of anxiety after petting a dog. Another study linked physical contact with an animal with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and, consequently, with lower blood pressure and heart rate. Anecdotally, many have experienced the reassuring calm that a pet can provide. This is especially true with dogs, as they seem to have an innate sense of empathy with and emotional awareness of their owners.
Exercise – While all pets are active, dogs require outdoor exercise, whether in the form of daily walks or games such as fetching a stick or a ball. Engaging with your dog in this way has immeasurable health benefits for you. Walking will tone your muscles, improve your cardiovascular condition and control your weight, all of which are key to maintaining healthy fitness. And countless studies link physical fitness and exercise with improved brain health. So think of walking a dog as a gateway to cognitive fitness.
Increased Socialization – Caring for a pet will broaden your social circle and provide more opportunities for social interactions. From your neighbourhood’s dog walking community, to the bird care specialists at the local pet supply store, to the veterinarian that cares for your cat, having a pet provides endless opportunities for conversation and connection. At a minimum, you and your pet may attract a friendly smile from a passerby. And that smile might just be enough to perk up your mood a little.
Sense of Purpose – The benefits of pet ownership do not only flow one-way. By caring for and connecting with an animal, you are bringing joy and love to your pet. You will readjust the daily rhythms of your life to accommodate the needs of your pet, giving your established routines a new sense of purpose and meaning. Together, you and your pet will forge an irreplaceable companionship, and both lives will be richer for it.
Of course, while pets may enhance the lives of many elderly persons, caring for a pet is not suitable for everyone, and anyone entertaining the idea of getting a pet should think carefully about the type of pet that would best fit their personality, living situation and overall health. For instance, those with mobility issues might opt for a cat or a bird as opposed to a dog. Seniors who might not adapt well to change or to new challenges might not be good candidates for pet ownership. Kittens and puppies may be boisterous and present particular challenges in their training, so for many seniors, an older pet might be a better choice. And caring for a pet is also a financial decision, as their care and maintenance can be costly.
However, if you feel you are ready to take the plunge and adopt or purchase a pet, the most magical aspect of forging a bond with your furry friend will not be all the ancillary benefits of pet ownership that you may not even realize you are being exposed to – exercise, companionship, anxiety relief, social interactions. Instead it will be the pure joy that comes with the deep connection the two of you will develop. And that is an immeasurable blessing.
Amy Lewtas, Founder, RetroSparX
New to RetroSparX
We are pleased to announce the following new RetroSparX memory game units which have recently been released and can be found on our website (www.retrosparx.com). We invite you to delve into the topics and tackle the memory games for seniors that comprise each unit. And we wish you happy reminiscing while you recall, relive and revel in these moments.
Recall the October Crisis and the FLQ
The kidnappings (and in one case murder) of two Québec officials in 1970 capped off a string of acts of terror across Québec perpetrated by the Front de libération du Québec. Read about this tumultuous time in Canada’s history when martial law was declared and much of the country was gripped by fear.
Included memory games for seniors
- In Revolution Romp you will identify some of the most consequential revolutions in history and some iconic revolutionaries. In the process, some cautionary words spoken by President John F. Kennedy will be revealed.
- Unscramble letters in The ‘Isms’ of Insurrection to form a word that both finishes a word or phrase and completes a word of phrase. The resulting words and phrases will have you thinking of revolution and battle!
Revel in the Disney Classic, Fantasia
Walt Disney’s creative ambitions in the making of Fantasia were truly unparalleled. His pairing of animation with classical music was ground-breaking, and the resulting film was a masterpiece of imagination. Read about the development of this iconic film and about the innovations in animation techniques and sound production that it inspired.
Included memory games for seniors
- Choose from a list of syllables to build the titles and/or characters of some of the most memorable films to come from Disney Studios in Disney Digest.
- In Disney Ditties complete the lyrics to some of the most beloved Disney songs. We guarantee some toe-tapping, sing-along fun!