Older Adults and Owning a Dog
One of the benefits of owning a dog is that it's necessary to leave the house in order to walk the dog. Once outside it's difficult, if not impossible to meet other dog owners who usually want to stop and talk. In the beginning conversations may not be very long. Usually, people admire one another's dogs, ask about breeds, age and feeding.
With repeated exposure, meetings become friendlier as people trade stories about the outrageous and funny things their pets have done. Before you know it, people are asking one another's names. Often times, they start walking together if they are going in the same direction. At the same time, it's impossible for this friendliness to be restricted to two people. Before you know it, other dog walkers join into the fun and everyone is exchanging names, jokes and general friendliness. The entire process becomes fun.
In support of this, recent studies show that older adults ranging from 50 years old and older, derive many benefits from walking dogs. The studies show that people get out of their houses, walk and get some exercise and come to feel a greater sense of belonging to a community. All of this was true even when controlling for individual variables such as health, length of time living in the neighborhood, marital status, education and income.
For those who are entering old age, 65 and older, there is the very real danger of coming to feel isolated and depressed after retirement, especially if a spouse has died. If not all of this, at least some of this is counter balanced by dog ownership. This is why it is thought that dog ownership promotes health aging while reducing symptoms of depression.
Then, too, there is the companionship offered by dog ownership. Studies have shown that having a pet may lower blood pressure and have other physical and emotional benefits. That is why many nursing homes now have programs that allow owners of therapy dogs to visit and allow residents enjoy petting these dogs.
What are your experiences with dog ownership? Your comments are welcome and encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD