For Seniors

Laddy visiting Stamford Estates
Laddy visiting Stamford Estates

Many seniors remember the pets they have loved throughout their lives but don’t always have the opportunity to talk about them. When a volunteer comes in from the Niagara Falls Humane Society with their pet for visitation seniors are happy to share stories of the love and friendship they have shared with their pets.

Niagara Falls Humane Society has recently started a Pet Visitation Program for senior facilities in the city of Niagara Falls. Seniors at various facilities including Lundy Manor, Stamford Estates, and Valley Park Lodge have enjoyed spending time with the animals and the volunteers. The volunteers and their pets really enjoy the time spent with the seniors and look forward to every visit.

Ten reasons why Pets are Good for Seniors

  1. Pets lower blood pressure. A study of health patients showed that people over 40 who own pets had lower blood pressure than people who did not have pets. Another study showed that talking to pets decreases blood pressure.
  2. Fewer trips to the doctor. Seniors who own dogs go the doctor less than those who do not. In a study of 1,000 Medicare patients, even the most highly stressed dog owners in the study had 21 percent fewer physician's contacts than non-dog owners.
  3. Less depression. Studies show that seniors with pets do not become depressed as often as those without pets.
  4. Easier to make friends. Seniors with pets meet more people and like to talk about their pets.
  5. Seniors become more active. Seniors with pets go for more walks and are generally more active than those without pets.
  6. Pets are friends. Most everyone, but especially seniors, will say that pets are their friends.
  7. Pets ease loss. Older people who suffer the loss of a spouse and own a pet are less likely to experience deterioration in health following that stressful event.
  8. Pets fight loneliness. You are less likely to be lonely with a canine or feline friend around.
  9. Taking better care of themselves. Seniors take good care of their pets and better care of themselves when they own a pet.
  10. Sense of security. Pets help seniors to feel that someone they trust is always around.

Pets for Seniors

You've probably noticed that when you pet a soft, warm cat or play fetch with a dog whose tail won't stop wagging, you relax and your heart feels a little warmer. Scientists have noticed the same thing, and they've started to explore the complex way animals affect human emotions and physiology. The resulting studies have shown that owning and handling animals significantly benefits health, and not just for the young. In fact, pets may help elderly owners live longer, healthier, and more enjoyable lives. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in May of 1999 demonstrated that independently living seniors that have pets tend to have better physical health and mental wellbeing than those that don't. They're more active, cope better with stress, and have better overall health. A 1997 study showed that elderly pet owners had significantly lower blood pressure overall than their contemporaries without pets. In fact, an experimental residential home for the elderly called the Eden Alternative, which is filled with over 100 birds, dogs, and cats and has an outside environment with rabbits and chickens, has experienced a 15 percent lower mortality rate than traditional nursing homes over the past five years.

How do they do it?

There are a number of explanations for exactly how pets accomplish all these health benefits. First of all, pets need walking, feeding, grooming, fresh water, and fresh kitty litter, and they encourage lots of playing and petting. All of these activities require some action from owners. Even if it's just getting up to let a dog out a few times a day or brushing a cat, any activity can benefit the cardiovascular system and help keep joints limber and flexible. Consistently performing this kind of minor exercise can keep pet owners able to carry out the normal activities of daily living. Pets may also aid seniors simply by providing some physical contact. Studies have shown that when people pet animals, their blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature decrease.

Many benefits of pet ownership are less tangible, though. Pets are an excellent source of companionship, for example. They can act as a support system for older people who don't have any family or close friends nearby to act as a support system. The JAGS study showed that people with pets were better able to remain emotionally stable during crises than those without. Pets can also work as a buffer against social isolation. Often the elderly have trouble leaving home, so they don't have a chance to see many people. Pets give them a chance to interact. This can help combat depression, one of the most common medical problems facing seniors today. The responsibility of caring for an animal may also give the elderly a sense of purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. Pets also help seniors stick to regular routines of getting up in the morning, buying groceries, and going outside, which help motivate them to eat and sleep regularly and well.

Pets in residence

Many nursing homes have taken this information to heart. For years, organizations like Pets on Wheels and Therapy Dogs International have been bringing thoroughly vaccinated, groomed, and behavior-tested animals into hospitals, hospices, and assisted living homes to give seniors a chance to pet and play with them. The residents get to have some therapeutic physical contact and a fun activity to break up their day. More recently, some resident homes have even begun letting animals live in the home full time. The Stanton Health Center in Stanton, Nebraska, a residential nursing home, has had dogs for its Alzheimer wing and now has an aviary and cats that live in the center's common area.

"The animals help patients keep their mind off their problems," says Jean S. Uehl, the center's director of nurses. "The love the patients get from the animals is unconditional." One particular stroke patient was withdrawn and rarely smiled, until she began to play with the resident cat. The patient and the cat became closely bonded to each other, and when the cat had kittens, "they became like the patient's babies," according to Uehl. The kittens played and slept on a tray on the resident's wheelchair and slept in a chair near her bed whenever they could. The kittens brought the resident out of her shell and she began to talk and smile. "The kittens in particular get all the residents' attention," says Uehl. "Everyone always wants to know where they're at and what they're doing." When there are kittens in the building, a number of residents stay busy all day, following them, playing with them, and keeping an eye on them.

Volunteering at the Niagara Falls Humane Society

Many seniors enjoy spending time volunteering with the animals here at the NFHS. Special time is spent cuddling cats in our new cat room or walking dogs on our property. If you would prefer to help in another way we have various volunteer positions ranging from assisting with administrative duties or events to helping with our gardens. Please contact if you would like to join our volunteer program.