For people over 60 years of age, an animal at home can be a living companion that activates their social relationships, offers them unconditional affection and alleviates the feeling of loneliness. Cristina de la Rosa Tineo, Psychotherapist psychologist and member of the Nudos center, explains that having an animal at home is “a choice, something that is done for pleasure and its benefit will be linked to the motivation of the person to care for and take care of it”.
“A dog or a cat at home helps to give a structure to the day; to facilitate certain routines. When people stop working, they often have a few months of adaptation to the new situation. After having been active for many years, They feel somewhat disoriented and have to find the best way to organize themselves. Having to take the dog for a walk three or four times a day helps them establish a routine. During the walk, it is easy to interact with people on the street, which reduces the possible isolation suffered by some of our elders ”, the expert details.
If the person does not have mobility difficulties, living with a dog and taking it for a walk encourages physical activity, with the health benefits that this entails. Furthermore, “the fact of taking care of an animal; if you have to take care of someone who depends on you, it can be positive because of the sense of usefulness it creates, which can promote better self-esteem, mood and reduction of anxiety symptoms, ”adds De la Rosa.
Reduce the feeling of loneliness
When a person lives alone, “the situation of arriving [a casa] and that the animal is; There are moments of small games, encounters and interactions throughout the day is very positive, although it does not replace the losses that you may have had in your personal life, “says Cristina de la Rosa.” A dog or a cat can help overcoming certain situations and alleviating discomfort, but having a pet does not solve certain personal, family or emotional difficulties ”, he clarifies.
Certain personal situations of the elderly lead to the fact of having to enter a residence and when they have animals, painful separations occur. “A pet becomes, on many occasions, another member of the family and if the time comes when a person needs or decides to go to live in a residence, it can be an important duel, since if someone is used to being with your cat or dog and you should say goodbye to it, it can generate depressive and anxiety symptoms “, concludes the psychologist.
The presence of animals in residences for the elderly is scarce in Spain, but, the expert believes, “it would be necessary to promote a space in them for people who like animals”.
“The problem is that it can only be done in private centers, because in public centers, where people without resources are, it is unfeasible, because the available means are scarce and priority is given to covering people’s basic care”, explains Inmaculada Ruiz , health social worker at the Villajoyosa Hospital, in Alicante.
Know which animal to choose
About a third of the elderly in Spain live with an animal, according to data from the Madrid Association of Companion Animal Veterinarians (AMVAC) and the Royal Canine Society of Spain (RSCE). But, not all animals are recommended for the elderly, it depends on their physical condition and degree of mobility. “A person with osteoarthritis is not the same as with emotional disorders. Therefore, it is advisable to follow the advice of veterinarians who know which are the right companions for each type of person.
In addition to dogs and cats, there are other advisable species to live with our elders, such as canaries or parakeets. These birds, with their song, can brighten the day of anyone and force them to feed them or clean the cage, which makes us not forget the obligations we acquire with them and improves motor coordination or mobility of people older people ”, explains Antonio Reinoso, veterinarian and vice president of the Spanish Association of Clinical Veterinarians (AEVET).
Characteristics of a suitable dog or cat
The size and character of an animal that is going to live with an older person is decisive for the experience to be satisfactory. So “for a person with movement coordination problems, a medium or large breed dog, which is more visible, will avoid tripping or falling. Likewise, calm dogs are recommended, that are not dominant or quarrelsome and that allow a peaceful coexistence. As for cats, they are a good option for people who cannot leave the house and they should be docile and affectionate, ”says veterinarian Antonio Reinoso.