A dog is man’s best friend – we’ve all heard that a thousand times. What’s more, a dog can also be a senior’s best friend, providing companionship, encouraging sociability, and promoting healthy exercise. What could be wrong with that?
Dog Walking Injuries Rise by 163 percent
As it turns out, there is a downside to dog ownership, as we first reported a year ago here on the AgingOptions blog. A 2019 study from the University of Pennsylvania revealed that the number of injuries sustained by seniors out walking their dogs has skyrocketed. We read about this alarming statistic in this article that was published a year ago on the HealthDay website.
According to the report, the Pennsylvania team of researchers “tracked national data and found that among people aged 65 and older, fractures associated with walking leashed dogs rose from about 1,700 cases in 2004 to almost 4,400 cases in 2017.” That’s an increase of 163 percent. And that number, say researchers, only takes into account fractures treated at emergency rooms. “The actual number of dog walking-related injuries among seniors might even be higher if injuries not typically seen in a hospital – for example, tendon or muscle tears – were factored in.”
Dog Walking Injuries: Women Three Times More Susceptible Than Men
Women 65 and older are three times more likely than men in that age group to experience fractures while walking their dogs, says the HealthDay article. The most common injuries involve fractures of the arm, including wrist, upper arm, finger and shoulder. But the statistic that concerned researchers most was hip fractures, accounting for roughly one in every six reported injuries. Hip fractures are known to trigger a cascade of health problems among seniors, so much so that the death rate linked to hip fractures in those 65 and older approaches 30 percent.
Since it doesn’t appear that the overall incidence of pet ownership has gone up that much, we wondered what accounts for this rise in reported injuries. Researchers wondered the same thing. “Why the rising rates of fractures tied to dog walking? HealthDay asked. “The study authors theorized that increased pet ownership and a greater emphasis on physical activity for older adults may be driving the trend.” The more seniors who decide it’s time to get off the couch and get moving, the more will be getting a pet, grabbing the leash, and heading for the park.
The Risk of Dog Walking Injuries Outweighed by the Advantages of Dog Ownership
In spite of the inherent risks of any physical exercise, the benefits definitely outweigh the drawbacks, and that also seems to apply – within reason – to the benefits of seniors owning a dog. For a helpful approach to the question of seniors and pets, we turned to this article from Aging in Place, a lifestyle website for seniors.
This article seems to portray pet ownership almost as a magic elixir for better physical, mental and emotional health. “Just 15 minutes bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain,” says the article, reducing levels of cortisol (the fight-or-flight hormone) and boosting production of serotonin (the feel-good hormone). This benefits a senior’s heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels. “Over the long term, pet and human interactions can lower cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke.”
Putting the Risk Into Perspective: Six Benefits of Pet Ownership
The Aging in Place article lists what it says are the six general benefits for seniors of pet ownership, including:
- Calmness – pets tend to diminish anxiety and stress
- Companionship – pets help seniors feel less isolated
- Daily Exercise – pets, especially dogs, get you outside on a regular basis
- Purpose – pets give seniors a sense of feeling needed
- Security – a barking dog is a deterrent to intruders
- Sociability – you’ll spend time with fellow pet-owners, not to mention the people at the vet’s office, the groomer and the pet food store.
So is having a dog a panacea to cure all the ills of growing older? No, it’s not, say the Pennsylvania researchers from the HealthDay article. If a senior is frail and at high risk for falling, some other kind of pet that doesn’t require daily walks may be a much better answer.
As one New York surgeon familiar with the report said, “The take-home message for older adults and their families is that, when choosing to care for a pet, be sure to consider the strength and coordination of the older adult, and the size and expected behavior of the pet selected.” Translation: a small, mellow dog – maybe a senior dog – is a far better choice than a larger dog who is hard to control. A cat may also be a good option. Also, the report recommended, pet ownership has to be re-assessed as the senior ages and becomes less mobile. This might entail the challenge of finding a home for a beloved pet that a senior can no longer care for, something that the Aging in Place article addresses.
Dog Walking Helps – but Planning Brings True Security
If a loved one is aging alone, a pet might be a great choice, for all the reasons cited above. Still, we can’t help noticing that some of the listed benefits of pet ownership might also be realized through solid and comprehensive retirement planning. Do you want to look forward to retirement with less anxiety and stress and more optimism and peace of mind? Do you long for a sense of purpose in retirement instead of just letting life happen as you age? Are you eager for a retirement plan that enhances your sense of security in a turbulent world? Then we encourage you to accept Rajiv Nagaich’s invitation to join him at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar.
A LifePlan is our name for a retirement plan that is uniquely complete and wide-ranging, blending all the critical elements of life as you age – finances, legal protection, medical coverage, housing choices, even family communicati0n – into one seamless retirement strategy. A LifePlan truly is the plan you need for the rest of your life. It’s easy to find out when and where our upcoming seminars are being held: simply visit our Live Events page and register there for the seminar of your choice, or call us if we can assist you by phone. Don’t approach retirement without a plan – a LifePlan from AgingOptions. Age on!
(originally reported at https://consumer.healthday.com)