In the survey, 55 percent of adults aged 50 to 80 said they had a pet – and more than half of them had more than one. More than three quarters of pet owners said their animals reduced stress, and almost as many pets gave them meaning. But 18 percent also said having a pet or pets is a strain on their budget.
Two thirds of all pet owners and 78 percent of dog owners said their pet helps them stay physically active. This emerges from the new results of the National Healthy Aging Survey conducted by the Institute for Health Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan.
For those reporting fair or poor health, pet ownership seemed to offer even more benefits. More than 70 percent of these older adults said that their pet helps them manage physical or emotional symptoms, and 46 percent said that their pets help distract themselves from pain.
“We have long known that pets are a common and naturally occurring source of support,” said Cathleen Connell, professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health.
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“While the benefits of having pets are significant, social connections and activities with friends and family are also key to lifetime quality of life. Helping older adults find cost-effective ways to support pet ownership without sacrificing other important relationships and priorities is an investment in overall mental and physical health. “
EXERCISE AND SUPPORT
The survey results show that doctors and other health care providers need to ask older adults about the role pets play in their lives, says Preeti Malani, the survey director, who is trained in caring for older adults.
“Getting more active from dog walking or other aspects of pet grooming is almost always good for older adults. However, the risk of falling is real for many, and 6 percent of respondents said they fell or were injured because of a pet, ”she says.
“Given the importance of pets to many people, losing a pet can also be a very real psychological blow that providers, family and friends should expect.”
“Recognizing these health benefits, more assisted living facilities are enabling residents today to have pets,” added Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research at AARP.
Many respondents cited companionship and social connection as positive side effects of owning pets. More than half said they owned a pet in order to have a companion. A slightly higher percentage said their pets sleep in bed with them. And 65 percent of pet owners said having a pet helps them bond with other people.
“Relationships with pets tend to be less complicated than those with humans, and pets are often a source of great joy,” said Mary Janevic, a research fellow who helped design the survey. “They make older adults feel needed and loved too.”
The survey also revealed some concerns about pet ownership. More than half of pet owners said having a pet makes it difficult to travel outside the home or enjoy activities. And one in six people said they put their pet’s needs before their own health needs – a number that comes closer to one in four for health problems.
“Later life is often a time when people have more freedom to travel and a long list of things to do with their free time, and sometimes a pet can get in the way,” says Janevic.
“For those on a fixed income, spending related to pet health care, and especially pets with chronic health problems, can be a struggle. Older adults can also develop health problems or disabilities that make it difficult to care for pets. “
PETS? NO THANKS
The 45 percent of older adults who said they didn’t have pets gave various reasons: 42 percent said they didn’t want to be handcuffed, 23 percent said they didn’t want to be tied, 23 percent said they didn’t have time, and 16 percent said they didn’t have time Percent said their own allergies or that of someone in the household prevented them from having a pet.
For those unable to own pets due to allergies, budget constraints, housing conditions, or schedules, there is often a need for volunteers at local animal shelters or animal care for friends and family, the researchers say. You are finding that health care providers and family members may want to recommend these options even to older adults who do not have pets and want one.
The results are based on responses from a nationally representative sample of 2,051 adults aged 50 to 80 who answered a variety of questions online. Laptops and internet access were made available to respondents who did not already have them. The University of Michigan Institute of Health Policy and Innovation conducted the survey. AARP and Michigan Medicine sponsored the work.