Grand­fa­ther’s dog plan has benefits

The Tribune (SLO) - - Sports & Weather - BY EVE GLAZIER, M.D., and EL­IZ­A­BETH KO, M.D.

Dear Doctor: Our grand­dad went through a re­ally hard time after our grand­mother died last sum­mer. He turned into a her­mit. Now he’s set on get­ting a dog, which our mom thinks is a bad idea be­cause of all the ex­tra work. But my broth­ers and I think a pet will help him be active and make him feel bet­ter. Who’s right?

Dear Reader: We’re sorry to learn of your grand­mother’s pass­ing and of your grand­fa­ther’s strug­gles with­out her. The loss of a spouse can be dev­as­tat­ing. It’s not un­usual for peo­ple to deal with grief by with­draw­ing from the world, a re­ac­tion that can all too eas­ily be­come an on­go­ing habit.

When it comes to shar­ing a home with a dog, both your mom and you kids have valid points. There is no ques­tion that prop­erly car­ing for a dog takes time and ef­fort, to say noth­ing of money for food, pet sup­plies and the in­evitable vet bills. But you and your broth­ers have a body of re­search on your side. Stud­ies have linked pet own­er­ship to a range of phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal benefits. Th­ese in­clude a pos­i­tive ef­fect on stress, blood pres­sure, de­pres­sion and lone­li­ness.

Now the re­sults of a study are shed­ding light on the benefits of pet own­er­ship for older adults. In re­sponse to a poll con­ducted by re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan’s School of Pub­lic Health, pet own­ers re­ported that the chal­lenges of ag­ing are made eas­ier due to the pets in their lives. Re­searchers sent the on­line poll to about 2,000 ran­domly se­lected adults be­tween the ages of 50 and 80, and about 65 per­cent of the group com­pleted the poll.

More than half of all re­spon­dents re­ported own­ing a pet, and 55 per­cent of those said they had two or more pets in their homes. The ma­jor­ity of those pets (68 per­cent) were dogs. Al­most half of re­spon­dents lived with cats and 16 per­cent re­ported hav­ing a small pet such as a ham­ster, bird or fish.

More than three-quar­ters of the pet own­ers said their an­i­mal com­pan­ions eased stress, kept them active and helped them to connect with peo­ple. The pos­i­tive ef­fects of pet own­er­ship were par­tic­u­larly ev­i­dent among those who rated their own phys­i­cal health as poor or fair. Sev­enty per­cent of those re­ported that the pres­ence of their pets helped them cope with the phys­i­cal and emo­tional symptoms of ill­ness, and al­most half said their pets helped dis­tract them from phys­i­cal pain. Close to 90 per­cent of all pet own­ers said that their an­i­mals helped them to en­joy life and made them feel loved.

At the same time, it’s im­por­tant to be clear-eyed about the chal­lenges of pet own­er­ship. About 20 per­cent ad­mit­ted to fi­nan­cial pres­sures due to pets. And 80 per­cent re­ported that they had help in car­ing for their an­i­mals, which means you and your mom may have to pitch in if your grand­fa­ther does get his dog.

The find­ings from this poll should give your mom, you kids and your grand­fa­ther plenty to con­sider.

Send questions to ask­the­do­c­[email protected] med­, or write: Ask the Doc­tors, c/o Me­dia Re­la­tions, UCLA Health, 924 West­wood Blvd., Suite 350, Los An­ge­les, CA 90095.

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