How pets impact our mental health

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Dogs are commonly referred to as man’s best friend, but how do pets actually affect people suffering from loneliness and social isolation? A new joint study by ASU and Meals on Wheels America looks into the real impact pets have, and why. Earlier we spoke with Asst. Professor Aaron Guest from ASU’s Center for Innovation in Healthy & Resilient Aging, and Laura Belazis from Meals on Wheels America for more.

Social isolation can be defined as a lack of companionship or connection with individuals outside of the home, Guest said. Compare it to loneliness how that makes us feel.

Belazis said than many factors can make older adults socially isolated and susceptible to loneliness. They include living alone, retiring from work, losing a spouse or another loved one, or being home bound.

“Pets, for many Meals on Wheels clients, are a really important source of companionship,” Belazis said.

Guest said that even being able to touch a pet makes a significant difference. It even has health benefits such as reducing blood pressure, addressing challenges with cardiovascular health by releasing hormones, and even added exercise.

Some more indirect benefits to having a furry companion include companionship and being able to have someone to turn to even if it is not a person.

For many, there are lots of challenges to maintaining a pet in the home. Such as mobility or financial limitations. A study last year showed one out of five of Meals on Wheels clients went without food themselves in order to feed and or care for their pet. Some even went as far to forego medical care or covering not covering their utility bill in order to care for their pet.

Nearly all said pet brings them happiness, and that their pets makes them feel less lonely, according to Belazis.

The Meals on Wheels program also has a dedicated grant program which can help pet owners in emergencies.

Asst. Professor Aaron Guest from ASU's Center for Innovation in Healthy & Resilient Aging; Laura Belazis from Meals on Wheels America

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