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Researchers in Museums


Engaging the public with research & collections


Question of the week:

How do older people benefit from domestic animals?

By rmjllil, on 3 June 2015

A conversation with a visitor at the Grant museum about my research on ageing led to the question ‘How do older people benefit from domestic animals?’

Human-animal interaction is a field of study that has been scientifically explored since the 1980’s and has ever since has a great focus on the emotional and positive aspects of pets including health benefits. However animals have been used as an aid in treating mental and physical health problems since late 16th century. Research studies have shown that animals are great at keeping people company, providing emotional support and a sense of physical and psychological wellbeing. This is particularly important to older people who are more likely to be disabled than younger adults and this may lead to difficulties doing things and meeting friends which can result in poorer quality of life including low mood and feeling lonely. Pets can play a very useful role making people feel happier and research has shown that older people who have a pet socialise and talk more, not only with the pet but with other people too. Pets can also help us feeling less anxious and can even improve our abstract thinking, concentration and motivation.

Another common health problem in older people is dementia. Someone with dementia has problems with thinking or memory and could for example struggle to recall events that happened recently, find it difficult to plan and organise things, and lose track of the day. This is because their brains are not fully functioning. Interestingly, spending time with a pet can in just a few months’ time improve brain activity in people suffering from dementia. This make researchers think that pets may help slowing down the development of dementia.

Odendaal, JSJ. Animal-assisted therapy – magic or medicine? Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 2000;49(4):275-280

Kawamura, N. et al. Long-term evaluation of animal-assisted therapy for institutionalized elderly people: a preliminary result. Psychogeriatrics. 2007;(7): 8–13

Bernabei, V. et al. Animal-assisted interventions for elderly patients affected by dementia or psychiatric disorders: a review. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2013;(47):762-773

Domestic cat





Picture: domestic cat on display at Grant museum

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