Many people consider their pets to be an integral part of their family. For seniors and those living alone, pets can have a profound impact on quality of life. By owning a pet, seniors can:
- Improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Some studies have shown that the act of petting immediately reduces blood pressure.
- Find a sense of purpose.
- Reduce loneliness and depression.
- Have someone to talk to.
- Increase physical activity—pets require food, water, exercise, and medical care.
- Have motivation for self-care out of a sense of responsibility for the pet.
With all the potential benefits of having a pet, losing a pet can be heartbreaking. Pets are sometimes lost due to death or illness, but people who are sick or aging may lose pets for other reasons. Seniors may choose to give up a pet that they can no longer physically or financially care for. When people move into apartments, assisted living, or nursing care, beloved pets may not be allowed to join them.
For many seniors, loss has become a consistent experience. As they age, they lose friends, family members, and neighbors. They face the possibility of losing physical abilities or mental faculties. Having left the workforce and/or having seen their children move out and start families of their own, seniors may lose a sense of identity or purpose. Pets help fill some of the gaps that are left by these losses. The added loss of a pet can lead to loneliness and depression—the very issues that pets help address.
As family, friends, and caregivers, we can provide support to seniors who face the loss of a pet. If possible, we can help prevent loss by providing assistance like changing the litter box, walking the dog, taking the pet to the vet, or even assisting financially. If a senior does lose a pet, the best thing you can do is provide a safe place where he or she can grieve and talk about this loss, and any other loss, without fear of judgment.
Buffy Sophinos, JD, MSW received her master’s degree in social work in 2010 and Juris Doctor in 2011 from the University of Denver, before joining Jewish Family Service in 2012. Her experience is focused primarily on assisting clients and families as they make decisions about the future. She has also worked at two assisted living communities, an elder law firm, and the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado.