Americans love dogs. They’re a huge part of our family lives, of pop culture, and they even provide health care benefits for people with disabilities and senior citizens.
We love dogs because they’re friendly, loyal, they assist us emotionally and physically, and because they’re just so darn cute! Many of us add dogs to our families for their various benefits — for emotional companionship, physical health, stress relief, to teach our children about responsibility and caring.
All of these characteristics of our favorite domestic animals make them especially excellent companions for elderly family members. Whether they’re aging at home, in a facility, or living with loved ones, the right dog has the potential to significantly improve the quality of life of seniors. It does, however, have to be the right dog. Not all breeds and personalities will be right for this!
Dogs help senior citizens: Boost physical activity
Whether a dog is right for an elderly family member may depend on their level of physical activity. For some seniors, walking every day is part of the routine that keeps their physical health up. Not all seniors can do this every day, however, and everyone has different abilities when it comes to the distance and speed of walks.
If walking presents a significant challenge, then a dog might not be the best idea. If it’s part of a physical therapy or exercise routine to take regular walks, however, a dog might be a fantastic companion! Different breeds have different needs, as well as require different amounts of exercise and physical care. In general, larger dogs may be more difficult to handle — even the friendliest and gentlest large dogs can be potentially problematic only because they weigh more, and need more exercise.
Smaller dog breeds like Spaniels and French Bulldogs are often better for seniors, however not all larger breeds are high energy, and vice versa. Greyhounds, for example, make for great companions — and they love to be lazy! It all depends on the situation and the needs of the person. Generally, you want to look for a dog that is relaxed and socialized. Breed doesn’t fully define personality, so keep an open mind! Some small dogs are a handful, and some big dogs are gentle giants.
Dogs help senior citizens: Reduce stress
Dogs are great for stress. Their companionship helps us handle emotional turbulence, and their care can relieve anxiety. Aging has a lot of stress involved with it, and stress can be harmful in large or constant amounts. When people age, things in their life start changing rather permanently. This includes losing physical faculties, memory, or sometimes losing one’s home and often friends and family due to the natural course of life, and it can all take a toll.
Dogs have a lot to offer in the relief of stress, and companionship and love. Caring for them in itself can be a stress relieving act; the routine of walking them, the satisfaction of providing them with a good and loving home.
Dogs can ease the emotional strain of aging and can be a source of constant connection in a rapidly changing life. Especially if an elderly family member is moving for care reasons, having a canine companion can make those transitions easier.
The waning years of life, just like all the others, should be filled with as much love and joy as possible. Dogs can help facilitate that.
Dogs help senior citizens: Choose the right environment
Dogs, just like elderly family members, have specific physical requirements in a living space. Not every area is right for a dog. Unfortunately, many assisted living communities to have restrictive pet policies, and don’t allow dogs despite their various advantages. This is a significant considering if you’re looking into assisted living, as having to part with a beloved pet would be an added cruelty to an already stressful situation.
Finding somewhere with parks and trails close by for short walks that aren’t too taxing is another aspect of location that’s important. It should be as easy as possible to care for the dog. Safe open spaces should be within walking, not driving distance. A yard or other private, enclosed area is also ideal so that the dog can run and play without having to be continuously kept up with.
In the end, a dog can provide a senior with many necessary elements of a full and happy life. Taking extra care to make sure that the dog is appropriate for them, and space is suitable for the dog, helps their companionship grow quickly and smoothly.