Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to Detroit

Food, Friendship and Four-Legged Friends

Dogs and cats have never been among my best friends. I haven't had a pet since I was a child, and I had to be told about recent films featuring man's best friend, including Marley and Me and Hotel for Dogs. I'm paying a little more attention to the furry creatures now, however, since scientific research proves people with pets can live healthier, happier lives. For homebound seniors, pets can be very special companions if they, too, can maintain their health.

One company, Banfield, The Pet Hospital, organized a national pet food drive to provide pet food for the dogs, cats and birds of eligible seniors. Banfield's Season Of Suppers®, "A Pet Food Drive for Pets In Need," teamed with the Meals on Wheels Association of America to collect pet food at their locations. Until supplies are depleted, Detroit seniors who receive our meals are eligible for these pet food donations. Interested individuals can call us for more information at (313) 446-4444.

Healthy, well-adjusted pets can strengthen the human-animal bond. Unless you're someone who really dislikes animals or is absolutely too busy to care for one properly, research shows that pets can provide excellent social support, stress relief and other health benefits. Here are some of them:

Pets can improve your mood: Research supports the mood-enhancing benefits of pets. For those who love animals, it's virtually impossible to stay in a bad mood when two loving puppy eyes meet yours, or when a soft cat rubs up against your hand.

Pets control blood pressure: While ACE-inhibiting drugs can generally reduce blood pressure, they aren't as effective with controlling spikes in blood pressure due to stress and tension.

Pets encourage exercise: We walk our dogs because they need it, but those walks get us moving as well. Since exercise is good for stress management and overall health, owning a dog can be credited with increasing these benefits.

Pets can help with social support: When we're out walking, having a dog with us can make us more approachable and give people a reason to stop and talk. This increases our network of friends and acquaintances, which also has great stress management benefits.

Pets ward off loneliness with unconditional love: Pets can offer love and companionship, and they can also enjoy comfortable silences with their owners. Various studies show that nursing home residents, too, reported less loneliness when visited by dogs. This reduces the stress that often comes from social isolation.

Feelings of loneliness and isolation affect people of all ages and can trigger a number of health problems, beginning with stress. Stress often leads to cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders and auto-immune diseases. Researchers looking into loneliness have found that a companion animal can help alleviate much of this stress. The feeling among researchers is that pets fulfill a person's basic need for touch and communication.

These findings probably come as no surprise to anyone who loves their pets. All animals require us to slow down to appreciate their unique qualities. We are forced to observe them to understand their needs and feelings. Caring for another creature allows many seniors to feel needed, and their lives are richer accordingly.

Owning a pet isn't for everyone, and pets do require additional work and responsibility. Yet seniors with pets have fewer doctor visits compared to seniors without pets. They also tend to report feeling better able to cope with changes in their lives when they have a companion animal. Daily activity levels also deteriorate slower, on average, if a senior is caring for a pet. Seniors interested in adopting a new pet are encouraged to visit one of the shelters of the Michigan Humane Society. MHS adoption counselors
will even help match you with the right pet.

Over 100 Meals on Wheels programs around the country have started pet feeding programs to make sure their seniors have access to pet food. According to Enid Borden, Executive Director, Meals on Wheels Association of America, this is the best way to deter seniors from sharing their own meals with their pets.

Right now, at the Detroit Area Agency on Aging, our goal is to identify the seniors who can benefit from our existing donation of pet food.  If the need is great, perhaps we can find volunteers to spearhead a pet food program, including the delivery of pet food to homebound seniors.

We want both our seniors and their pets to get proper nutrition. If you need help, or if you want to help this effort, contact our Nutrition Services Manager, Barbara Saulter, at (313) 446-4444, extension 5263.

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