A new study reveals that the companionship of a pet after the loss of a spouse can help reduce feelings of depression and loneliness in older adults.
The study examined depressive symptoms and loneliness among people age 50 and older who experienced the loss of a spouse through death or divorce. Researchers compared individuals who experienced the loss of a spouse to those who stayed continuously married. Then they explored whether the effects of spousal loss differed for those who had a pet at the time of the death or divorce.
Researchers used data from a sample of older adults who participated in an experimental survey about human animal interaction as part of the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study in 2012, and linked the data with additional data collected between 2008 and 2014. They identified pet owners as those participants who either had a cat or a dog.
They found all individuals who lost their spouse experienced higher levels of depression. However, people without a pet experienced more significant increases in depressive symptoms and higher loneliness than those who had pets. In fact, those who had a pet and experienced the death or divorce of their spouse were no lonelier than older adults who didn’t experience one of those events.
Journal Reference: Dawn C Carr, Miles G Taylor, Nancy R Gee, Natalie Sachs-Ericsson. Psychological Health Benefits of Companion Animals Following a Social Loss. The Gerontologist, 2019; DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnz109