(WRAL NEWS) Loneliness is not just an emotional problem for many older Americans, it also causes health effects equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to AARP research.
The risks of hypertension, heart disease, strokes and other health conditions rise significantly.
Almost half of all seniors now report regular feelings of loneliness, and many find that pets relieve these feelings.
“The ill-effects of loneliness on health and well-being are well established,” said Dr. Dave Comer, the managing physician assistant at Prime MD. “If companionship, whether human or otherwise, can ease these negative emotions, it can go a long way to improving the overall quality of life.”
Having a pet in the living space with a senior brings this companionship to another level of closeness. There may be difficulties with caring for a pet as one ages, but when possible, there seems to be benefits.
“We see a dramatic effect from pet companionship.”
University of Rochester psychiatrists conducted a study of 830 primary care patients to determine the effect of pet ownership.
All participants were over 60 and either lived alone or with a pet. Those with pets reported being lonely 36 percent less than those who were alone without a pet.
Retirement communities across the country took note of this and other reports on the benefits of keeping pets. These facilities now allow for pets to be kept by residents.
“In our community, we see a dramatic effect from pet companionship,” said Victoria Sosa, of Cambridge Village of Apex. “Having another living being there for friendship goes a long way to feeling connected and cared for.”