Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

August 3, 2013

Senior Focus: Pets offer health benefits

The need for companionship doesn’t dwindle with age.

Researchers have found the most serious ailments affecting seniors is not cancer nor is it heart disease — it’s loneliness.

It is a gap that often can be filled by a pet.

Not only do pets offer companionship, they also improve the health of the owner in other ways. Pets can aid relaxation, reduce anxiety, lower one’s blood pressure, promote physical fitness and mental stimulation, encourage laughter and joy, fulfill the basic human need to touch and prolong life.

But the benefits of pet ownership come at a cost. Pets still need food, veterinary care and regular exercise. So, one local expert, Sharon Neumann, Outreach Coordinator for the Senior Center Network, has brought options for pet care to its Acme location to help provide seniors contact with pets without the costs.

When Neumann arrives at Acme on Monday mornings, she often sees Bill walking with his dog, Jake, a friendly older mixed breed. Bill and Jake frequently join her in the office for coffee and a talk. While members chat, Jake quietly nuzzles his way around the group until everyone has given him a pat on the head, a scratch behind the ears or a rub on the belly.

The interaction gave Neumann an idea.

“There is something about Jake’s presence that makes even difficult news or issues easier to share,” Neumann said. “The smiles and laughter tend to abound in this little group and all troubles seem to melt away. This has helped make me aware of the strong, meaningful relationships our members have with their pets. So, when Kara Peck of Northern Michigan Veterinary Hospital visited at our Acme location with a puppy, we sat down with Penny Zimmerman of Hope Village and talked about how we might expand our work together. The result is our current pet program.”

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