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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Michigan: Furry Friends Help Older Adults Cope with Health Issues, Get Active, Connect with Others

Pets may help older adults cope with mental and physical health issues, according to a new national poll. In all, 55 percent of adults ages 50-80 have a pet, according to the new findings. More than three-quarters say their animals reduce stress, and nearly as many say pets give them a sense of purpose.

Two-thirds of all pet owners said their pet helps them be physically active, according to the new findings from the National Poll on Healthy Aging. The poll is conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, and sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.

For those who reported their health was fair or poor, pet ownership appeared to offer even more benefits. More than 70 percent of these older adults said their pet helps them cope with physical or emotional symptoms, and 46 percent said their pets help take their mind off pain.

“We have long known that pets are a common and naturally occurring source of support,” said Dr. Cathleen Connell, a University of Michigan School of Public Health professor who studies the role of companion animals in older adults’ lives.

Poll director Dr. Preeti Malan, says the poll indicates a need for providers to ask older adults about the role of pets in their lives.

Companionship and social connection were positive side effects of pet ownership for many respondents. “Relationships with pets provide older adults with a sense of being needed and loved,” said Dr. Mary Janevic, an assistant research scientist at the U-M School of Public Health.

Older adults who said they don’t have pets gave many reasons: 42 percent said they didn’t want to be tied down, 23 percent gave cost as the reason, 20 percent said they didn’t have time and 16 percent said allergies were the reason.