As a wise woman once said, facing old age can be tough, but it’s better than the alternative. One thing that is clear is that the physical and mental challenges that accompany advancing years are far easier to face with a four legged friend by your side. A dog can offer vital companionship, lower your stress levels and even improve your heart health. Here we take a full look at the benefits of owning a dog in your later years.

Health and happiness in later years

Old age brings a higher risk of everything from heart disease and diabetes to dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Aging is also accompanied by changes in our appetite and nutritional needs.

But perhaps the bigger issue that is faced by America’s steadily aging population is that of loneliness.

With more than half of people over the age of 75 living alone, social isolation is a growing problem that cannot be ignored.  As well as making life difficult for millions of seniors, it has been directly linked to a range of medical conditions, and even to mortality.

Benefits of pet ownership for the elderly

Intuitively, we all know what great company a dog can be, but you might not realize the full implications of just how much of a difference pet ownership can make to an older person’s quality of life.

Whatever sort of dog you choose, the great thing is you are no longer alone. The dog is right there by your side, providing companionship and unconditional love. While they might not answer back in words when we chat to them, they have a great attitude that is particularly valuable for the elderly.

As we have already mentioned, today’s seniors have plenty to worry about, from health issues to family problems to their own mortality. Dogs, on the other hand, don’t face such worries. With dogs in particular, their boundless enthusiasm and ability to live “in the moment” is contagious and makes for a happier, stress-free household.

Adding a sense of purpose

Many seniors, particularly those living alone, can find it hard to inject meaning into the day. With no real reason to get out of bed or leave the house, they can become sedentary and depressed, often not even leaving the house for days on end. Is it any wonder that health and mobility issues so often result?

A pet provides exactly the focus they need to attack each day with enthusiasm. From meals to grooming to exercise, many seniors find themselves building their day around their pet. To those who juggle a household of pets with work, kids, and a million other things, it might sound funny when our elderly relative needs to get back home to make sure the dog gets fed on time, but do not underestimate the importance of these sorts of routines in a happy fulfilled life in later years.

Is there a downside?

Of course, a pet is a huge commitment, so make sure you discuss it with your loved one and think about the practicalities – your 80-year-old father might be fit and healthy but is it really a good idea to land him with a puppy that will need lots of exercise each day for the next ten years or more? In situations like this, offering a home to a more mature pet makes far more sense in a mature household.

For information on adopting a senior dog, read our introduction to training an older dog or the story of how Charley the Dachshund got his groove back.

This guest post was written by Jackie Edwards.