Is home somewhere that you feel comfortable? Is it filled with memories of beloved friends and family — some of whom may be furry animals?
Researchers analyzed data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, a national study of adult development and aging that recruited more than 50,000 Canadians between the ages of 45 and 85.
They found more than one-third of older Canadians are choosing to age with pets and, for some people, living with pets can increase life satisfaction.
My research focuses on social justice and aging, with a special interest in the human-animal bond. I recently collaborated on a report for the federal government on seniors, aging in place and community. When I researched community supports in Canada for this report, I discovered there is no government funding to help older adults care for pets.
This is unfortunate because the relationship between humans and non-human companions has become increasingly important to Canadians. While people and their pets may seem like a frivolous concern, people’s relationships with their pets impact wellness and health in perhaps surprising ways.
Helping people in financial need to pay for their pets is fiscally responsible, since maintaining the human-animal bond could in the long term reduce health-care costs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines aging in place as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.”
Aging in place is associated with decreased depression, maintaining personal identity, staying connected with community, friends and family, as well as avoiding the emotional and physical pain associated with leaving a familiar place.
For many older adults, pets are considered to be family members. Interactions with pets are not only important in terms of companionship, they are also associated with better health.
For example, a study of people in Germany and Australia found people who continuously own a pet are healthiest, visiting the doctor less often than non-pet owners. Researchers have linked the human-animal bond to reduced cardiovascular disease risk, lowered blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
Research also suggests people with pets are less lonely, have stronger support networks, and they are more involved in community activities.
But many older adults do not have adequate retirement income, and in such cases, caring for pets can become too expensive to manage.
Plans to help older adults faced with climate-related danger should also consider that some people have chosen not to evacuate severe weather situations when they are unable to bring their pets.
Compliance with evacuation orders might increase if government programs were implemented to provide vaccinations for pets and to evacuate older adults with their pets so that they can go to emergency shelters together.
In the United States, there have been changes to disaster planning and disaster preparation exercises to respond to the rescue and care of companion animals.
Ensuring pets are evacuated and reunited with their humans can be a positive influence on mental health after disasters.
Integrating new initiatives within existing community supports to help older adults care for the animals that share their lives would be a win-win, promoting wellness and potentially reducing health expenditures over the longer term.
L.F. Carver is an adjunct assistant professor at Queen’s University in Ontario. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.