Pets play an increasingly important role in senior health

Pet ownership is a part of life for adults of all ages, and a growing amount of evidence suggests spending time with four-legged friends may be part of a healthy lifestyle for seniors. In fact, pets have become an increasingly common sight at retirement communities around the country, whether they are owned by residents themselves or cared for by employees, and the benefits seem to speak for themselves, according to the Assisted Living Federation of America.

One of the biggest advantages of bringing pets into the retirement community is that it can help seniors transition from their old residence into their new arrangement. Having that familiarity of a cat or dog can make an understandably stressful situation less so. Not only that, but an ample amount of research has shown that spending time with a pet can lower a person's blood pressure, and reduce symptoms of depression and feelings of loneliness. Perhaps most of all, pets encourage seniors to stay active in a variety of different ways. A groundbreaking study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found seniors with pets were more active and dealt better with stress.

"The positive effect a pet can have on the health and well-being of an older person is remarkable," said senior health expert Susan Jessup. "The animals help lift a person's mood and give people something to focus on outside of themselves,"

Seniors don't have to own the pets themselves to reap the benefits. In fact, pet therapy or simply interacting with animals can offer the same physical and emotional benefits as pet ownership.