Depression is often an ignored condition of older adults. Yet, it’s prevalent among older adults and can be debilitating or deadly. When a spouse dies and grown children move away – often far away – we are caught unaware. We find ourselves stunned by the resulting loneliness. For decades, we were needed. We served a purpose. Now, we have only ourselves, day in and day out. No one really needs us and we see the future as a vast, lonely road to nowhere.
There are places to go and things to do. However, as we grow older it might get increasingly difficult to get out and about. Driving may become more of a challenge due to waning vision or slowing of reflexes. Even if we drive, we want to be home before dark. Our friends begin to become sick and even pass away. Our world shrinks, becoming tighter and narrower, closing us in.
No wonder we get depressed.
In the midst of our loneliness, it pays to remember the beloved family pets from our past — the dogs, cats, rabbits, parakeets and gerbils that have grace our lives. We close our eyes and remember the non-judgmental, unconditional love of our wonderful collie and the antics of the many cats we grew to love. And we wonder if maybe an animal companion would ease our loneliness.
In fact, the “marriage” of seniors and pets is a match made in heaven. And when the animal companion is adopted from a shelter, it can literally be life-saving for both parties. Even better, senior citizens are a godsend for the older dogs and cats at a shelter who might otherwise be euthanized. For a senior, an older animal companion is often far more appropriate than a rambunctious puppy or kitten. Furthermore, an older animal is less likely to outlive its owner.
The company of a pet is also healthy. Studies show:
- A year after an acute heart attack, pet owners are significantly less likely to die than those who do not have a pet.
- Have fewer emergency room visits and require less prescription drugs
- Recover faster from surgery and illness
- Deal better with stress
- Are less likely to feel lonely
- May be less prone to depression
Years ago, one of the more traumatic aspects of moving from home to a senior facility was giving up a beloved pet. Recognizing this, many senior facilities – including Joshua Arms Senior Residences – now welcome pets. Whether you live on your own or in a senior apartment complex, it’s important to choose the right pet for your limitations and lifestyle, not to mention your budget. Many pets require routine vaccines and veterinary care.
Dogs: Most senior apartments limit the size of the dog you can have. Appropriate breeds for older adults include Boston Terriers, Chihuahuas, Maltese, Shih Tzus, Pugs, Beagles, Pomeranians, Pugs and teacup varieties. Dogs require regular walks, exercise, grooming and attention.
Cats: Unlike dogs, cats are content being indoors. They do not require daily walking and may be ideal for someone with mobility issues. The best cat breeds for older adults include Persians, Himalayans, Ragdoll or American Shorthair.
Other Pets: Mini Rex Rabbits, gerbils, hamsters all make excellent pets for seniors. Small birds such as parakeets, canaries and finches as well as aquariums of fish, turtles or other aquatic animals may also be appropriate.
Where to find a pet?
In most cases, the very best source for pets – especially dogs and cats – is your local shelter. Not only are you saving a life, your pet will have been neutered and given appropriate vaccinations and medications. Even better, in an attempt to place older animals, a lot of shelters offer a discount to those who adopt them. Certain shelters even offer a senior discount to older adults wanting to adopt a pet.