Online Program

Aging related changes in physical, emotional, and memory related health and the importance of interacting with animals among community dwelling older adults

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 : 3:30 p.m. - 3:50 p.m.

Katherine Anthony, MA, College of Public Health and Human Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Daniel Dowhower, MS, MPH, College of Public Health and Human Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Carolyn A. Mendez-Luck, PhD, MPH, College of Public Health and Human Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
By 2030 the number of U.S. adults over the age of 65 is expected to exceed 71 million as Baby Boomers reach retirement age. As this massive cohort reaches older age, they will experience changes in physical, emotional, and memory related health. Pet ownership and interactions with animals may help older adults cope with age related health changes.

Methods: In this qualitative cross-sectional study, four focus groups were conducted with a total of 35 men and women aged 60 and over living in Linn or Benton County, OR.  Audio files were transcribed and analyzed in Atlas.ti and repeatedly examined for thematic content.

Results: Thematic and content analysis revealed that participants perceived changes and expressed concerns about cognitive decline, decline in physical abilities, and loneliness. They also shared that interactions with animals, animal ownership, and animal observation assisted in coping with many aging related concerns. Specifically, pet ownership was beneficial for encouraging them to exercise, keeping them on a schedule, increasing feelings of positive self worth, providing joy and entertainment, and decreasing loneliness by providing reliable companionship. It was also shared that observing wild animals relieved stress.

 Discussion: Older adults perceive many health related changes and shared that pet ownership and interaction with animals assisted in coping with these changes. Community dwelling older adults that maintain relationships with animals and domesticated pets may experience multiple health benefits from these relationships. Future research should investigate specific causal pathways of these benefits.

Learning Areas:

Chronic disease management and prevention
Other professions or practice related to public health
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
List two perceived health benefits from pet ownership during the aging process Describe three age related health changes

Keyword(s): Aging, Veterinary Public Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been an investigator in studies of older adults' coping with age related health changes and am a co-investigator in an interdisciplinary research team currently examining older adult perceptions and management of age related health changes. Among my research interests are management of chronic disease among older adults and low cost health behavior interventions that utilize existing environmental supports.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.