Friday, February 19, 2021

Pets and Seniors - How they Help Each Other

Instinctively, many of us have always realized how much it helps us to own a pet during retirement, although we may not have given it much thought. In fact, during the Covid pandemic, pet adoptions increased dramatically, as people of all ages sought the companionship of a pet, especially if they expected to spend a lot of time alone. Having a pet broke up the solitude for many lonely seniors who were unable to see friends and family because of  Covid.  Many of them were very creative in their choice of pets, too. Recently, I met a neighbor who was out walking her very large pet turtle!

Pet adoptions nearly emptied the kennels in a number of animal shelters, providing homes to animals who might never have been adopted, if it had not been for the pandemic.  Many of the adopted animals were  older, more "mature" animals, which are often overlooked in the shelters, so adopting them was a great service. 

Although millions of seniors own a pet, it is a topic which has never been covered on the Baby-Boomer-Retirement blog before, so I welcomed the offer from Johny Kershaws to write a guest post on the topic. In the article below, Johny explains how much owning a pet can help the seniors who own them.  Animals have so much to teach us. An interesting book on the topic is "What I Learned from My Dog: My Life's Lessons Journal." (Ad)  

Benefits of Pet Ownership for Seniors

by Johny Kershaws

Call it whatever you prefer it to be – pet therapy, pet-assisted counseling, or pet care – the advantages of pet ownership for senior citizens have been widely recognized and acknowledged for generations.

Animals have been shown to relieve pain, reduce loneliness, and provide elders around the world with loyalty and emotional support. Loneliness is a factor in many seniors' poor health. Consequently, you can improve the quality of your life through pet ownership as a way to avoid loneliness, dissatisfaction, inadequacy and feelings of low self-worth.

The most prevalent types of pets owned by older people are cats and dogs, ranging from Chihuahuas to Golden Retrievers, but the list also includes rabbits, farm animals, birds, fish, and turtles as likely options. Some senior living communities allow pets, which is an important issue to consider if you or your parent is considering moving into one with an animal.

Among the benefits of pet ownership are: 

1. Pets Combat Loneliness

Just petting an animal can decrease your stress and make you feel more comfortable, because the touch releases "feel good" dopamine chemicals in your nervous system. In addition, owning a pet makes you more likely to talk with strangers, especially while out walking your dog or enjoying a day at the dog park.

Moreover, you may quickly realize that owning a pet will frequently give you opportunities to chat with nearly anyone, whenever you are out with your pet.

2. Animals Can Ease Anxiety and Pain

For many senior citizens, pain is an all too common experience, and anxiety can often make the pain feel worse.

Older people sometimes have health problems such as osteoporosis and arthritis which cause periodic pain. A pet can reduce their discomfort and contribute to the relief of their pain. In several studies, pet therapy has proven very effective in reducing symptoms among seniors who have suffered trauma.

Many elderly people have even asserted that their pets took away their pain. The production of oxytocin in the brain, a positive hormone, is often increased when interacting with pets. This hormone also reduces the sense of anxiety and pain in people.

3. Pets Encourage Seniors to Stick to a Routine

For a healthy lifestyle, it is very important to adhere to a routine, especially for senior citizens who no longer work or have another reason to follow a schedule.  When you own a pet, you become accountable to another living creature. This is true even if you own something as simple as a fish or turtle. You must guarantee that food, water, training, maintenance, and other needs are addressed in a timely manner for your pet. Taking care of another living creature makes seniors more likely to take care of their own needs, too, such as following a regular schedule themselves for eating, sleeping, and getting exercise.

4. Animals Keep Seniors Mentally Active

Over half (62%) of the seniors surveyed said they maintained a regular routine by taking care of their beloved pets, and 73% claimed they had a sense of purpose which was reawakened by having a pet.

After you retire, if an individual has little sense of purpose, the risk of depression increases. This higher rate of depression can sometimes lead to lower cognitive ability, since you may feel there is nothing worthwhile for you to do each day. Being able to feed, walk, care for, and play with an animal can begin to fill those empty hours and help keep your mind sharp.  In addition, if you walk a dog or play with your cat, you will also get exercise, benefiting both you and the animal.

5. Pets Help You Remain Social

As mentioned, depression may be devastating in senior citizens, and isolation has been shown to increase heart disease rates by 29 percent to 32 percent. In an analysis of 70 studies with 3.4 million individuals, the chance of death is 30 percent higher in the following seven years if you become more isolated in retirement.

In a recent survey, however, 65 percent of  older pet owners stated their animals helped them stay connected to other people, because they often socialize with other pet owners. Of course, most pet owners also interact with and talk to their animals, which reduces their feelings of loneliness, too!

6. Handling Animals Can Lower Blood Pressure

A pet can help you stay healthy in a variety of ways, including reducing your blood pressure. In some studies, pet ownership has been shown to reduce the risk of heart complications after heart attacks.  Many small lapdogs, like Chihuahuas and others, are especially suitable for seniors because of their small size and personality.  Holding one can also reduce your stress, which helps to lower your blood pressure.

7· Many Pets Help Their Owners Stay Active

Larger pets, such as dogs and cats, must engage in some physical activity regularly. This workout can come in the form of regular walks, playing with a ball, chasing after toys, and similar activities. The pet's daily training requirements may differ from one breed to another, but most of them need their owner to engage them in a certain amount of physical activity, which is also a way for the owner to get  exercise, as well.

Failure to provide exercise can cause your pet to become overweight and bored. Owners can avoid this by keeping their pets physically fit. Even very elderly seniors can sometimes find a way to satisfy the physical needs of their pets by tossing a ball to their dog, dangling a toy in front of their cat, or playing with them in other ways. In addition, pets help keep seniors moving as they perform basic tasks, such as feeding their pet, bathing it, taking it to the vet, and doing similar things for it.  

If you intend to get a dog, choose one which will fit your way of life.  Take into consideration the needs and requirements of the animal. If you live in a senior apartment or living community which allow pets, it is especially important to choose the correct breed and size dog. 

You may want to read a book like "Every Dog: A Book of Over 450 Breeds."  (Ad) It contains pictures of the different types of dogs, as well as information on their size, exercise requirements, ease of training, affection, and whether they are likely to be good with your grandchildren. It can be a useful tool before you choose the dog you want to own during retirement. 

8. Pets Relieve Stress

Many types of pets seem incredibly wise. They frequently are aware of the mental state of their owners and may try to provide them with comfort and companionship when they need it the most.

Animals can be regarded as essential stress-breakers. All too often, they know exactly how to save the day for their owners.

Our brain rests when we are with our pets. Having an animal around tends to boost brain oxytocin development, which reduces stress and tension in our bodies.  That is one reason so many people have pets as comfort animals.

9. Animals Can Ease Depression

Unfortunately, many older adults are lonely later in life. They may spend a lot of time by themselves because of health problems which keep them home, the death of their partner, adult children who are unable to visit, or even an unexpected worldwide pandemic which forces shutdowns and closures.

It is not easy on anyone to be alone, because most of us crave companionship. Without it, it is common to become depressed, which is terrible for your health.

One way to help us feel free from loneliness is by caring for a pet. Your dog, cat or other pet can become your buddy, bring you joy, and just be there for you.

Their wagging tail is a sign that you are the center of their lives. Knowing this brings joy to their owners.

10. Pets, Especially Dogs, Provide A Sense Of Security

Finally, having an animal in your home can offer a sense of comfort, peace, and security. Pets, in particular dogs, will often alarm their owners if someone unfamiliar is at the door or tries to enter the house. However, they are not the only animals which can aid in your personal security. Cats and birds have also been known to create loud sounds, and even attack, when their owner appears to be at risk. Owning an animal can make you much more secure when you live alone.

However, not all animals meet the needs of every senior citizen. Before you bring an animal home, take a little time to think about the right one to meet your personal needs and fit your situation. Consult a veterinarian to learn about the pros and cons of various types of pets you are considering. Make sure you also take into consideration the cost of owning each kind of animal, including food, grooming, and potential veterinarian bills.  You should also consider who will care for the pet if you travel or need to go into the hospital.

You may be interested in reading about the various types of pets (Ad) and the advantages and disadvantages of each.   This could help you avoid unexpected issues before you spend a lot of money on a pet which may not be right for you. 

Bottom line:

Dogs have always been one of the most popular choices in pets for seniors, followed by cats, although there are other options you may want to consider. You have to decide which type of pet is the right choice for you.

Dogs, in particular, are renowned for their devotion to their humans, and for their unconditional affection. Keeping a dog, cat or other pet at home will not only relieve your sense of isolation, but will also encourage you to lead a more productive, happier and safe existence.

About the author:  The writer of this post is a pet lover who owns a dog and loves to write about everything related to pets. She is a frequent writer and contributor to top online pet publications and blogs, including  Dog Breeds 911 and Pet Friendly Senior Living.

* * * * * * *

You can find gifts for retirees and others at my Etsy Store, DeborahDianGifts:

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If you are interested in learning more about financial planning for retirement, where to retire, Social Security, Medicare, common medical issues as you age, and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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Photo credit: Photo provided by Johny Kershaws 

Friday, February 12, 2021

'Retirement Heaven or Hell - Which Will You Choose?' - An Excellent Resource Book

A few weeks ago I was sent a copy of the book "Retirement Heaven or Hell - Which Will You Choose?" to review, and I want to start by saying that it is an excellent resource for anyone who intends to plan a secure, satisfying, happy retirement.  The information this book contains will do much more than simply help you prepare financially for the years after you stop working.  It will also help you enjoy those years and find meaning in the final decades of your life.

A Delightful Way to Prepare for Retirement

All of us have probably known at least one person who had, or is having, a miserable retirement and none of us want to be in that position in the future.  How do we make sure we can avoid that tragic situation? 

 Reading "Retirement Heaven or Hell - Which Will You Choose" (Ad) will help you avoid most common retirement pitfalls.  I particularly enjoyed all the delightful little original cartoons they used in the book to teach their retirement concepts.  Another important feature was the emphasis on the fact that retirement should NOT be your primary goal.  Instead we need to have new goals for our life AFTER retirement.  As someone who has been retired for eight years myself, I realize how true this is.

What to Expect to Learn from "Retirement Heaven or Hell"

The core of "Retirement Heaven or Hell" (Ad) focuses on what they call their Nine Retirement Principles.  These are:

Nurture Strong Relationships

Foster Good Health

Achieve Financial Independence

Reignite Your Sense of Adventure

Tap into Your Spirituality

Find Your Tribes

Make the Most of Your Time

Adopt the Right Attitude

Discover Your Purpose

In reading this list of retirement principles, you will see that they are also the keys to having a full, satisfying experience at any time of your life. Of course, when we were young working adults, we knew the importance of having good relationships, health, money, a sense of adventure, spiritual values, groups to belong to, time management, a positive attitude, and a life purpose.  These were skills necessary to be effective during our working years, and while we were raising our families.

However, many of us forget how necessary these values continue to be after we stop working. In truth, they are just as important, and perhaps even more important, during retirement. 

"What?" you ask. "I need to practice time management in retirement?"   Absolutely.  Based on my own personal experience and that of my friends, we often comment to each other that we don't know how we ever found the time to work, since we are so busy during retirement!  The skills you learned during your working years will continue to be just as important during retirement.

After covering all these topics in a pleasant, easy-to-read manner, the book goes on to talk about how you can use these principles to discover your purpose in life and create a heavenly retirement for yourself.  Isn't that what we all want?  Don't we all wish to avoid being condemned to a boring, lonely, unhappy retirement hell?

Why You Should Read "Retirement Heaven or Hell"

As this blog has often discussed in the past, it is not unusual for people to live another 20 or 30 years after they leave the work force, and sometimes longer.  During your working years, you may have hoped for nothing more than the day when you no longer had a schedule to follow, and that could be what you enjoy the most during the first few months after you leave your last job. What then?  What are you going to do once you get bored sitting at home, watching television, playing golf, going fishing, and snacking all day?  Is that all you want to do for the next 20 or 30 years?  What dreams have you deferred during your working years?  What would you like to achieve during a time in your life when you no longer have to work simply in order to survive, but you still have your health and energy?

Retirement planning requires much more than just putting money aside from your paycheck every month for 40 years.  It requires planning how to make sure your future is full of interesting activities, adventures, and satisfying relationships.  

I highly recommend that readers of the Baby-Boomer-Retirement blog consider getting, "Retirement Heaven or Hell - Which Will You Choose" (Ad).  If possible, read it four or five years before you retire. However, even if you have already retired, it is full of wonderful ways to get your retirement back on track so you are fully enjoying and making the most of every moment.  

About the Authors

This book was written by three authors who, together, bring decades of experience and knowledge to the creation of this entertaining and helpful book:

Michael Drak - 45 years of experience in the financial services industry

Susan Williams - Founder of Booming Encore, a digital media hub with retirement information

Robert Morrison - a Certified Financial Planner with decades of experience

You can find gifts for retirees and others at my Etsy Store, DeborahDianGifts:

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Photo credit: Book Cover

Friday, February 5, 2021

Substance Abuse in Senior Citizens - Are You Abusing Drugs or Alcohol?

A couple of years ago, I was in the local grocery store when the man in line ahead of me put a case of beer, several bottles of wine, a couple of bottles of hard liquor and a variety of mixers on the conveyor belt, along with an assortment of snacks.  The friendly checker smiled at him and asked, "Are you having a party?"  The man replied, indignantly, "No, this will last me all week."  The checker looked at me in disbelief.

Of course, not all senior citizens are drinking at home. I have also noticed is the popularity of the golf course bar in our retirement community.  The first night it opened, a man crashed his golf cart into a tree a few minutes after leaving.  He survived, and the story was relayed in a humorous way, but drunk driving, even in golf carts, is a serious problem for senior citizens who may already have vision and other health issues which can impair their driving. In addition, many seniors are taking medications which can increase the enhance the effects of alcohol or recreational drugs, such as marijuana.

While sometimes the signs of substance abuse in senior citizens can be obvious, in other cases it can be well concealed.  It is one reason why some senior citizens do not want to go to a hospital or stay in a skilled nursing facility, even temporarily while healing from surgery.  They are often concerned that they will not be able to freely use the drugs or alcohol they have become dependent upon.  In other cases, they intentionally search out some of the popular assisted living communities which now have elegant bars and frequent "happy hours."

As a result, I was extremely interested when WebMD emailed me a slide show titled "How to Spot Substance Abuse in Older Adults."  They were sharing this information because they were concerned that more older Americans are abusing drugs and alcohol than in the past.  In fact, according to the statistics they released, 5.7 million Americans over the age of 50 had substance abuse problems in 2020, and that is more than twice the number who had these problems in 2006.  Below is a summary of the information provided by WebMD.

If you are concerned about drug abuse or alcoholism in yourself or a family member, it may be helpful to read some substance abuse books. (Ad)  They can show you how to get started on the path to recovery, while learning more about the subject in the privacy of your home.

Spotting Substance Abuse in Older Americans

1.  Stress and anxiety in the later years may contribute to dependence on drugs and alcohol. The stress could be caused by retirement, the loss of people we care about, loneliness, sleep problems, family conflicts and financial concerns. Although not mentioned by WebMD, I have observed that some people begin to abuse chemicals as a way to cope with health problems.  They may be "self-medicating" themselves for arthritis stiffness, back pain, depression, or similar problems.  The article also mentioned that Baby Boomers became adults during a time of relaxed views about alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs, and they continue to hold those views today.

2.  Men are more likely to overuse alcohol, and women are more likely to become dependent on prescription drugs.  You are more likely to have a substance abuse problem if you are white, have a higher income, live alone, lost your spouse, retired unexpectedly, suffer from chronic pain, or you are disabled. In addition, people with a past history of either addiction or mental illness are also more likely to have a substance abuse problem late in life.

3.  Substance abuse problems may be mistaken for normal aging issues.  For example, if the person has problems with their balance, memory, or social skills, it could be assumed they are having age related problems, not alcoholism or drug addiction.  Since they are retired and no longer have to show up daily for a job, it can be easy to hide what is going on.  Even when relatives notice the heavy drinking, they may shrug it off, believing that the substance abuse isn't hurting anyone, or it is making the person happy.

4.  Signs of substance abuse vary widely, and may be hard to spot, because the person could become more reclusive or secretive about it.  Some signs to watch for include slurred speech, unexplained injuries and bruises, memory loss, confusion, mood swings, complaints about sleep problems, anxiety, depression, loss of interest in their favorite activities, poor hygiene and isolation from family and friends.  Of course, many of these issues can be caused by other diseases such as dementia, Parkinson's, or common medical treatments such as blood thinners and cancer treatments.  It can be difficult for families to sort out what is actually going on.

5. Alcohol affects people more strongly as they age.  Seniors may get drunk on much less than they used in the past. In addition, alcohol interacts with medications people commonly take for illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia and depression.  Most people who drink should limit themselves to no more than one small drink a day; less is better.

6.  Prescription drugs can have dangerous interactions.  If your doctor recommends a new prescription to you, make sure you review it with both your physician and pharmacist.  If you do not improve, seem to feel worse, or develop new symptoms after adding a prescription, make sure you re-check with your doctor and pharmacist.  Always read about drug interactions, especially if you are also taking nutritional supplements, over-the-counter medications, or herbal remedies.  Some of them can have dangerous consequences when combined with prescription drugs.

7. Marijuana is being used more often by older Americans.  Some seniors are even growing their own marijuana on patios and in gardens in their back yard.  As many as one in twenty seniors may be using some form of cannabis. Here in our California retirement community, local marijuana dispensaries even advertise on television that they can help you choose the right product and deliver it to your home.  They make it very easy! It is important you discuss your use with your doctor and pharmacist, because marijuana can boost the effect of your prescription drugs, hurt your short-term memory (masquerading as dementia), and increase your blood pressure, heart rate, and heart attack risk 

8.  Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin use is low, but it does exist in senior citizens. These heavy drugs can cause serious drug interactions and lead to falls, accidents and overdoses.  Most senior citizens do not handle these drugs very well.

9.  Substance abuse in senior citizens is serious, but it can be treated.  Depending on the specific issue, you should start by discussing the problem with your doctor.  There are medications which may help some problems. Other people may benefit from therapy, going through a detox program, and/or joining support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, where they can get the support of other people going through the same thing.  You may also find it helpful to read The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (Ad) which explains how that program works and the story of the men who started it. If you join a support group, it may help you to find a meeting which has a few other older people who are dealing with the same issues.  The good news is that these treatments seem to be more effective in older people than young adults, so it is never too late to turn things around!

10.  Adult children and other relatives can help by encouraging the older members of their family to seek help for substance abuse problems.  If necessary, talk to their doctor, minister or family friends to solicit their assistance in getting help for a family member with substance abuse problems.  Family friends of the affected person may also find it helpful to join an Al-Anon Family Group in their community.  This is an organization designed to help the friends and family of alcoholics and drug abusers, so they learn how to better cope with the stress it causes them.

If you are worried about drug or alcohol abuse in another person, no matter what their age, you may find it helpful to read Alanon books and literature, which can make it easier for friends and family to cope with the stress of dealing with someone else's drinking or drug use. (Ad) Do not give up on your loved one.  There are interventions which can help them, and you, have a better life.

You can find gifts for retirees and others at my Etsy Store, DeborahDianGifts:

Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by following us.  You will receive a weekly email with the most current post.

Are you interested in learning more about common medical problems as we age, Social Security, Medicare, where to retire, financial planning, and more?  Use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

Disclosure: This blog may contain affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase from an Amazon ad, I'll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Graphic credit:  morguefile