Q: My husband died recently and I feel lonely. My kids want me to get a pet, but I'm hesitating. Should I?

A: I am so sorry for your loss. You are not alone: One third of seniors report feeling lonely-- it's part of the aging process. As we lose our spouses, friends and relatives, our social interaction decreases. Chronic loneliness is not healthy. It can lead to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, depression and early death. The pandemic has made loneliness worse. Thank goodness it's almost over!

I have to say, your kids have a point: a pet can help!

Speaking from experience, my dogs force me to go outside for walks. They bring me toys to play with. They cuddle, talk back and even encourage me to share my sandwich. Plus they provide the unconditional love we all crave.

88% of people aged 50-80 say their pets help them enjoy life, 86% feel more loved, and 79% report lower stress. Not only are pets wonderful companions, but they can have a positive influence our health, too.

Lower blood pressure- People who own a pet have lower blood pressure and a steadier heart rate than non-pet owners.

Improved mobility- Regularly walking a dog is associated with lower obesity rates, fewer doctor visits and a greater desire to exercise.

Heart disease recovery- After a heart attack, seniors owning a dog or cat show improved recovery rates.

Pain relief- Loyola University found seniors receiving pet therapy after surgery needed significantly less medication for pain.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s- Pets have been shown to reduce agitation among those with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Longer life- According to a study of people aged 40-80 living alone, the risk of death was 33% lower for dog owners than people without dogs.

So, listen to your children. Whether it is a cat or dog, lizard or hamster, pets are scientifically proven to help you maintain a happy, balanced life.

Maybe I'll see you out there when I walk my dogs!

One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care.

Send questions to AskOSP@OneSeniorPlace.com, call 321-751- 6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging at OneSeniorPlace.com. Barbara Fradkin is a Social Worker, Certified Care Manager and the Director of One Senior Place, Viera.

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