Five reasons dogs are good for the elderly

Dogs can be invaluable additions to the lives of our elderly friends and family. . Photo / Thinkstock
Dogs can be invaluable additions to the lives of our elderly friends and family. . Photo / Thinkstock

We all know dogs are renowned for their capacity to be lifelong, loyal friends. This is especially true when it comes to the elderly - and particularly those with health problems or who live alone in aged care facilities that allow pets.

Some breeds of dog are more appropriate in this sense than others (an owner who can't facilitate plenty of walks and exercise shouldn't adopt a hyperactive dog, for example) but generally speaking dogs can be invaluable additions to the lives of our elderly friends and family. Here are some reasons why:

1. Dogs can alleviate stress

This isn't just true for the elderly - studies have shown owning a dog can significantly reduce stress levels in children and adults alike. Even the mere act of petting an animal increases levels of the hormone oxytocin (the 'cuddle hormone') and decreases production of the stress hormone cortisol. Reduced stress can mean better health - who can say no to that?

2. Increased physical activity

For many elderly people, regular exercise, even if low-key, is important. A dog can be a great way to encourage physical activity which in turn can lead to better health and an improved state of mind. Even lazier dogs can encourage their owners to be more physically active - the positive effects of our canine friends cannot be understated.

3. Increases survival rates after heart attacks

Studies have shown dog owners have better odds of surviving for longer after suffering a heart attack. Another study suggests dogs can even lower the risk of heart disease and can help humans to live longer, better lives.

4. Promotes social interaction

Walking dogs often leads to interactions with other dog owners - if not solely for the fact that our furry mates love to stop and smell each other. For elderly people who live alone, taking a dog for a walk can be a great excuse to get outdoors and to meet and chat to others.

5. Dogs are protectors

For those who live alone - particularly the elderly - dogs can be great bodyguards. The right dog, well trained, can be a brilliant security alarm in the homes of anyone who needs a little bit of extra protection. Even if the dog couldn't hurt a fly, its bark could scare away potential intruders.

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