With advances in medicine and disease prevention, people are able to live longer and fuller lives than ever before. With many people living to an older age however, this can put them at risk of added health problems, degenerative illnesses, and mental and emotional instability. But there are many steps that can be taken to ensure that your later years are spent as healthily and happily as possible.
One problem which affects many older people is loneliness. Loneliness is more than just an emotional experience for many people, with research showing that a lack of social communications can be very harmful to our mental and physical health. Social isolation, if left untreated, can sometimes have a very negative impact on a person’s life.
The following are social isolation statistics taken from UK reports:
- 63% of adults aged 52 or over who have been widowed, and 51% of the same group who are separated or divorced report feeling lonely some of the time or often (Beaumont, 2013)
- 51% of people aged 75 and over live alone (ONS, 2010)
- Two-fifths of all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company (Age UK, 2014)
- 17% of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week, and 11% are in contact less than once a month (Victor et al. 2003)
- 59% of adults aged over 52 who report poor health say they feel lonely some of the time or often, compared to 21% who say they are in excellent health (Beaumont, 2013)
There are many ways of tackling loneliness in older people, but each individual should be treated differently; with their lifestyle, interests and health all taken into account. According to Age UK statistics, for the first time in history, there are fewer people aged under 18 than over 60. Reports state that nearly half of older people (49% of 65+) say that pets or television are their main form of companionship, with one in eight (12%) stating that pets are their main form of company.
A pet is an ideal way of battling loneliness, with cats and dogs being the most popular. A pet will never question you, and will only ever offer you unconditional love. With isolation being a familiar presence for many older people, the loyalty and companionship of a pet can turn people’s lives around. But, having a dog can provide more than just a friend, they can also improve your health and quality of life in a surprising number of ways.
It’s important to keep our minds active as we age as, without mental stimulation, overall health can deteriorate rapidly. The responsibility of looking after a dog will often improve the mental health of an older person, as there is much to think through and research. Pet owners are also less likely to suffer from depression and gain the ability to handle stress better than those without pets. Whether it’s the animal’s health or fulfilling their daily needs, they are a constant source of interest and value.
A dog will also act as a conversation starter, and a way to interact with others. During walks or play time, it is much easier to speak to other dog owners, as your dog will provide the introductions for you!
Owning a cat offers much towards your emotional health. As a source of constant companionship, they love and rely on you for all of their needs. Having a cat living in your home with you can often diminish the feeling of social isolation, and allow you to interact with someone else emotionally and mentally.
Cats can often sense how we are feeling, offering comfort and happiness when required. With their individual characters and personalities, they give the companionship and much-needed physical contact and touch that can be missing in modern life.
Having someone else that we are responsible for all contributes greatly towards our emotional health. Many people suffering from loneliness often feel a loss of purpose and meaning to their days, while a dog will provide tasks and a routine.
Cats are the ideal housemate for those after a constant, cosy companion that involves little to no physical activity. However, for those who want to be encouraged to improve their physical health, then why not consider getting a dog? Owning a pet dog can provide equal amounts of love and are a great motivator in getting outside as they need regular walks and care, making daily exercise impossible to avoid.
Many of the physical challenges associated with ageing can be combatted by simply taking care of yourself and your body. Pets, particularly dogs, encourage laughter and exercise, which boosts your immune system and energy levels. Reports have shown that people who own dogs tend to be much more physically capable and independent, proving that the regular exercise they receive improves their quality of life for many years to come.