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The Impact of Animals on Older Adults

Every morning plays out pretty much the same at Agnes’ house in University City – It’s 4:30 a.m. and Agnesanimals_and_seniors is watching and waiting for her very best friend to show up on her doorstep for breakfast.

Agnes is nearly 96 years old, and still living alone and able to get around with a cane, her arthritis and failing eyesight seriously restrict her lifestyle and daily activities. Agnes counts herself fortunate, though, because she can still enjoy the company of her very best friend – Ajax the cat. 

Ajax isn’t Agnes’ cat. He lives with Agnes’ daughter who lives on the next block. But, he shows up at Agnes’ door morning and night for an extra meal and lots of reciprocal affection.

Agnes can’t think or talk about Ajax without smiling and cat food is the very first thing on her grocery list each week. The excitement and anticipation and source of daily companionship Ajax brings to Agnes’ life have made a remarkable difference.

Agnes’ story is not uncommon, as countless personal experiences and studies have proven that pets are excellent companions for older adults.  Pets can lower blood pressure and the heart rate and lift depression. They provide unconditional love, acceptance, adoration and attention. Pets can help soothe the emotions of those coping with illness or the death of a loved one.  They can make owners laugh. They can serve as a security system, as dogs for example can alert owners of potential dangers by barking. Pets can even enhance an individual’s social interactions because they offer a common ground that can stimulate conversation with others.

The positive influence that pets have on older adults is so prevalent that the government has made provisions to federally funded senior living facilities allowing older adults to have animals. And, some area nursing homes even have a facility pet or have organizations bring in pets on a regular basis to visit with residents.

Plus, the animals make out pretty well too. They receive constant love and affection from caring older adults. Ajax has even positioned himself as “king” of Agnes’ castle.

Ann Bannes is vice president of home and community-based services for St. Andrew's At-Home Services, a local non-profit organization that serves the needs of the elderly and their caregivers.  Contact (314) 726-5766 for more information.