Aging adults can benefit from relationships with pets, according to new research from the University of Missouri. Rebecca Johnson, an associate professor in the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing, College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the school's Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction, says that having a pet can lower the stress hormone cortisol while increasing oxytocin, prolactin and norepinephrine, which are hormones related to joy, nurturing and relaxation.
“Research suggests older adults live longer, healthier, happier lives when they interact with pets on a regular basis,” Johnson says. “Pets provide companionship and unconditional love that improves the overall health of aging individuals. Caring for animals gives older adults responsibility and more reasons to get up in the mornings.”
Johnson says that although the health benefits of pet ownership are widely acknowledged, many retirement communities and elder-care facilities do not allow residents to have pets. The TigerPlace Pet Initiative offers a successful model other elder-care facilities should follow, she says.
“Health care providers are quick to give walkers and canes to aging individuals to help with their physical needs, but they make it difficult for elderly individuals to keep their pets, key facilitators of emotional health,” Johnson says. “TigerPlace recognizes the benefits of pet ownership and makes it easier for residents to own pets by having pet-friendly facilities and in-house services available to help residents care for pets.”
TigerPlace promotes pet ownership with features such as outdoor walking paths, student visits from the school's veterinary medicine and nursing programs three times per week to walk pets and clean litter boxes, monthly preventative-care visits to pets from a retired veterinary medicine faculty member, and an on-site exam room for specialized veterinary care.