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Pets and the Elderly ~ [Issue 0200-5]  Wellness Weekly
 Feb 29, 2000 12:50 PST 

The use of pets to improve human mental and physical health has
become popular in recent years, especially among the elderly. "Pet
therapy" is used in many hospitals, in long-term care and
rehabilitation facilities, as well as in pediatric facilities. The
idea is to provide a psychological uplift, helping individuals
accommodate to medical procedures and hospital routines. As such, pet
therapy has been used without much in the way of standard clinical
research beyond "gut feel" or "common sense."

Now, a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics
Society reports pet owners tend to be more active physically than
their non-pet-owning counterparts. The elderly pet owners in the
study tended to score higher in their abilities to carry out normal
daily living activities. Those who owned pets showed higher physical
activity levels - true for both dog owners and cat owners - and this
was thought to relate to the care-giving requirements for the
animals. The report also noted pet ownership tended to combat the
mental impact of social isolation common to many elderly.

An earlier study noted seniors who were dog owners tended to work
significantly longer and had lower serum triglycerides than their
counterparts who did not own pets. In a separate study on elderly
psychiatric patients with chronic age-related disabilities, pet
therapy led to improvement in irritable behavior in some, but not all, groups.
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