11 Million Ageing People in the UK Could Benefit from Owning a Pet

International Federation on Ageing and Bayer HealthCare release report highlighting awareness of how pets contribute to healthy ageing

The first-of-its-kind international report investigates how dogs and cats may contribute to physical, mental and societal well-being, in an ageing global population. The health impact of pets on older people is explored in a new report published by the International Federation on Ageing, through an educational sponsorship from Bayer HealthCare.


The report, “Companion Animals and the Health of Older Persons,” provides a comprehensive literature review into the ways pets contribute to the physical and mental health of individuals and the well-being of our broader society and suggests more research into companion animals and their effects on human health which could have a significant impact on human life.


With advances in global public disease prevention, people are living longer than ever before. In response to the ageing population, healthcare systems and governments are actively working to manage the expected healthcare costs associated with the ageing process and chronic long-term conditions that affect older people.


Commenting on the global report, Dr Jane Barratt, International Federation on Ageing said: “This field of research has important implications across generations and also for the future of our broader society. Many studies have broadly discussed how pets, such as dogs and cats, contribute to health by reducing anxiety, loneliness and depression, but until today, have not yet been published in a single resource.  This new report advances our understanding of the value of companion animals in the framework of human health and the broader society.”


According to Age UK statistics, in the UK alone, for the first time in history, there are 11 million people aged 65 or over, and more people aged 60 or above than there are under 18. Recent reports state that nearly half of older people (49% of 65+ UK) say that pets or television are their main form of companionship, with one in eight (12%) stating that pets are their main form of company.


Commenting on the report, Ferenc Polz, Head of Bayer Animal Health said: “The therapeutic benefit of companion animals is an area of study attracting increasing interest among health and social science professionals and this sponsored report is yet another example of the life changing potential of human and animal relationships”.


Our Nation’s Companion Pets – Snapshots of Pets in Action

It is no secret that dogs such as Bodie, a very big-hearted Jack Russell Terrier has been changing lives: he loves to visit elderly care home residents and children with special needs in Conwy, Wales. When Bodie walks into the rooms of residents at Merton Place Nursing Home in Conwy, their faces light up. One 88-year-old resident, who is bed-ridden following a stroke, says he gives her something to look forward to every week and always makes a big fuss of her.  Bodie loves children and regularly visits Ty Gobaith Children’s Hospice where they play with him and take him for a walk. He also visits the Sensory Department and Individual Learning Services in Llandrillo College to help students with learning difficulties or other special needs.


Another canine superstar is Alfie. In 2002 Judith, aged 60 had her life turned upside down when she was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition Cerebella Ataxia. This condition slowly affects coordination, speech, eyesight, swallowing and muscle tone. By 2006 Judith was using an electric wheelchair and ready to take early retirement from her job. “When I stopped working I found it very difficult to have the motivation to go out, even getting dressed was too much trouble some days, so much so that I could spend a week without going outside the house”.
Immediately Alfie, her adopted pet, made a difference to Judith’s life! When Judith gave up work she lost her confidence but Alfie has given her that back. “Alfie is so much more than the tasks he does; he gives me confidence to go anywhere I want and emotional support. I’ve even started volunteering three days a week at a charity for people with disabilities. I run a course at Macmillan Cancer Care and there are many times people will become upset. Without being told, Alfie runs straight over to give them a cuddle and make them feel better.”


“About a year ago I fell down the bottom set of stairs and twisted my ankle, my husband was out and I couldn’t walk because of my foot, I tried to crawl to my wheelchair but before I got very far, Alfie brought me the phone and I could call my husband to get him to come back and help. I spent a couple of weeks not being able to walk at all and he came into his own. Picking things up and fetching things for me.”


“Alfie has completely given me my independence back. I can go anywhere on my own and know that he will look after me. There have been occasions when, without his support I would have been in real trouble – I know what ever happens he will be with me”.  For Judith and Alfie, theirs is an extra special relationship, they saved each other. Alfie gave Judith the motivation and strength to start living again and Alfie had a second chance at a loving family. It’s a real life fairy-tail.


With Age UK projections for the number of people aged 60 or over expected to pass the 20 million mark by 2030 in the UK alone, the Bayer sponsored research suggests that a growing number of people across the globe could benefit from pet ownership.


“The interaction between humans and animals is powerful. Animals can educate, motivate, and enhance the quality of life for people around the world,” says Michael Devoy, Chief Medical Officer, Bayer HealthCare. “Given the scope of this report, we are excited that this research has the ability to reach human healthcare practitioners, veterinarians, doctors, nurses, gerontologists, and social workers.”


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