Owning a dog may lower your chances of disability and frailty in later life, new research suggests.
Researchers from Japan and Australia analysed health data from over 11,000 seniors aged over 65 for a four year period.
They found people with a canine friend who exercised once a week had roughly half the risk of disability compared to those who never had a dog.
“Dog walking is a moderate-intensity physical activity that appears to have a protective effect in reducing the risk of disability onset,” the authors wrote.
“The daily care, companionship and exercise of a pet dog may have an important role to play in successful ageing.”
The study, recently published in PLOS ONE, follows emerging research on the physical and social benefits of owning a pet in old age.
A recent study from the University in Michigan found that living with a pet for more than five years was linked to slower cognitive decline.
In Germany, researchers found that having dogs in nursing homes enhanced verbal communication among people with dementia.
Despite the wellbeing benefits, just 11 per cent of Australian pet owners are aged 65 and over.
Dr Janette Young from University of South Australia, who has researched the positive benefits of pet ownership, says there are many reasons why older people don't own animals.
“People fear the possibility of ending up in a nursing home, and that makes them make the choice not to continue having pets,” she said.
“You have this other phenomenon where people assume that a pet won’t be able to go into an aged care facility, and the animal gets relinquished.”
According to the Animal Welfare League, only 18 per cent of Australia’s aged care facilities allow residents to live with a pet.
Young recently helped launch an online tool which allows aged care homes to assess whether a pet can live with a resident inside their facility.
She said that if residents had the option of animal companionship, they could reap immense benefits for their mental, social and spiritual wellbeing.
“We know that when people go into those facilities their rates of depression increase, it’s a really stressful time, and what we know is that human-animal relationships ease those transitions, especially as people age,” she said.
“I think animal relationships give us a softening to the harshness of everyday life.”Do you have an idea for a story?
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