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A Senior’s Best Friend

Elderly woman and CAREGiver walking with her dog.
A pet helps lower a person’s blood pressure and cholesterol levels, the Humane Society reports.

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Taking care of another dog might be a big challenge for an older widow who just lost her longtime pooch companion, but research shows that the benefits of pet ownership often outweigh the drawbacks.

Q. My 83-year-old mother-in-law misses having a dog after her longtime pet died several months ago. She’s been asking about the possibility of getting a new canine companion. I’m worried that she can’t care for a dog. Do you think it’s worth the trouble, and what can I do to help?

Dogs are wonderful companions for humans of any age. In fact, according to a 2011 survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 62 percent of American households include pets.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, a pet can offer older adults a sense of well-being and encouragement, and even a reason for living. Being responsible for another life could add new meaning to your mother-in-law’s own life, according to the Humane Society.

A pet also helps lower a person’s blood pressure and cholesterol levels, the Humane Society reports. And studies show that having a dog increases survival rates in groups of patients who have suffered cardiac arrest.

The Humane Society suggests that your mother-in-law may want to consider adopting an older animal, however, rather than a puppy or a more rambunctious dog. Older pets are more likely to be calm, already house-trained and less susceptible to unpredictable behavior, the Humane Society advises.

Older animals also are often more easily physically managed by elderly persons than stronger, excitable younger animals; yet older pets still confer the same medical and emotional benefits on their owners as younger animals do. Animal shelter staff can help potential adopters find the most suitable animal for their lifestyle, ensuring a great match between pet and person, according to the Humane Society.

After your mother-in-law gets her pet home, if she needs help, consider asking a young relative or neighbor to assist her. This young friend could help walk and groom her new dog, if she is unable, and run errands for pet food and assist with other chores.

If there’s no one around who fits that bill, a Home Instead CAREGiverSM could help. The local Home Instead® office hires adults — who are often seniors themselves — to assist older adults around the home. A CAREGiver can help your mother-in-law care with tasks around her home — like shopping — which could make owning a pet easier. With a plan like that, your mother-in-law would have the benefit of two companions.

Last revised: December 28, 2011

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