Animal companions are a lifeline for seniors

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Animal companions are a lifeline for seniors

According to a new study, the companionship of dogs and cats plays a valuable role in the lives of senior citizens.

Researchers at the University of South Australia have discovered that companion dogs and cats can help prevent suicide among people over the age of 60. According to lecturer and lead researcher Dr. Janette Young, animals provide companionship and a sense of purpose to senior citizens, and promote social connections.

Dr. Young and her colleagues interviewed 35 people aged 60 to 83 years, and asked this questions: “How do your pets influence your health?” A full third of respondents reported that they were “actively suicidal” or “significantly traumatised”, but their dogs and cats gave them a reason to live. As a result of these findings, which were published in the journal Anthrozoos, Dr. Young is supporting a push to introduce animal fostering into nursing homes and similar facilities.

“Aged care facilities operate 24/7, and they could ensure an animal is being cared for,” says Dr. Young. “What I’m pursuing is to not only have animals visit seniors in aged care facilities but for them to be able to take their own dogs and cats into care with them. That’s my vision.”

Dr. Young’s research demonstrates that older people often experience complex health problems, social isolation, loneliness, and concerns about burdening their families, and that animals could play a protective role against some of these issues. She also reports that she and her colleagues didn’t anticipate that the study would lead to participants revealing suicide attempts or ideas around suicide.

“We need to be taking human/animal relationships more seriously in the whole space of humanising aged care,” Dr. Young says, noting that the distress many older people face when they have to relinquish their dogs and cats before moving into aged accommodation can be devastating. “For some people, the loss of an animal may mean the loss of a significant mental health support, one that was perhaps even protecting them from ending their lives.”