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Geriatric researchers from the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario published a study showing how elderly people who own pets are more active than those who do not, suggesting that pet ownership has positive effects on physical well-being.
     According to a study in the the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, caring for a dog or cat also serves as a buffer against isolation and loneliness in elderly people.
     Pet ownership was shown to have a "statistically significant effect on the physical health of older people," according to the Canadian team of researchers led by Dr. Parminder Raina. Raina and colleagues conducted telephone interviews with over 1,000 independently living, elderly Canadians, 286 of whom owned either a dog or cat.
     The investigators discovered that pet owners were "more physically active than non-pet owners," scoring higher in their ability to carry out the normal activities of daily living. But the study findings also show that dog ownership, and the regular walks that can entail, was linked to physical activity levels similar to those found in cat owners.
     The researchers speculate that the "care-taking role" involved in pet ownership "may provide older people with a sense of purpose and responsibility and encourage them to be less apathetic and more active in day-to-day activities."
    The researchers also report that pet ownership "buffered" the psychological impact of social isolation in some elderly individuals. In fact, the authors found that elderly people who lacked strong social support (for example, family and friends) remained relatively emotionally healthy during life-crises compared with non-pet-owners placed in similar situations.
    Dr. Parminder Raina and his team believes their findings support the notion that pets provide real health benefits to the elderly. And they call for longer-term studies to further elucidate the "complex relationship" between humans and their animal companions.
(From the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, March 1999)