Yes, animals can affect human emotions and well-being, studies show. For example, a 1999 study1 published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society indicated increased mental and physical well-being in seniors with pets. Pets act as a coping mechanism for stress, their needs help maintain physical movement, and their companionship lowers blood pressure.
Coping With Stress
Seniors cope with a variety of stressors, one of the biggest being the death of a spouse. A study by J. M. Siegel3 showed a correlation between stressful life events in the elderly and increased medical visits. Dog owners, however, did not increase their medical visits throughout one year’s time. They developed the ability to cope with losses because of their time spent (on average 1.5 hours) with their dogs each day. In fact, dog owners in the study felt they were closer to their pets than owners of other types of animals, and they felt they spent more time with their dogs as opposed to owners of other pets.
Maintaining Physical Movement
Dogs are the best animals to help older adults maintain physical movement, of course, because they must be walked and played with in general. For this reason seniors with an adequate degree of mobility make the best owners of dogs. Those with limited mobility can be helped as well because regular movement slows the progression of mobility issues. For these persons animals such as cats make great pets because they require some mobility for feeding and playing, but are independent enough to take care of most of their needs.
Lowering Blood Pressure
Studies 2 have shown that petting animals, such as dogs or cats, lowers the blood pressure of both males and females. In fact, even talking to a pet lowers the blood pressure, though not as much as direct petting. The same study showed blood pressure being the highest when speaking to the individual performing the test, but then decreasing immediately once interaction with pets began.
Multiple studies show that animals positively affect human emotions and well-being, making their companionship beneficial to people of all ages. However, for the elderly, who face unique challenges like isolation and declining mobility, pets can prove to be particularly beneficial in regards to lowering blood pressure, maintaining physical movement and coping with stress.
1 Raina, P; Waltner-Toews, D; Bonnett, B; Woodward, D; Abernathy, T. Influence of companion animals on the physical and psychological health of older people; an analysis of a one-year longitudinal study. Journal of the American Geriatric Society. 1999; Mar:47(3):323-329.
2 Vormbrock JK, Grossberg JM. Cardiovascular effects of human-pet dog interactions. J Behav Med. 1988 Oct;11(5):509-17.
3 Siegel, J. M. (1990) Stressful life events and use of physician services among the elderly: The
moderating role of pet ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58,