Creature Comforts: Aging with a Pet
Some people may believe becoming a pet owner in retirement is inconvenient, making traveling and other activities more difficult. However, once retirees get to a stage where staying home becomes preferable, a pet can be a wonderful asset both as a companion and health care enabler.
For example, owning a pet may help reduce stress. Regular walks and even the simple act of holding or petting an animal can create a sense of calm. Pets also make wonderful soundboards, listening to your thoughts and opinions without judgement or criticism. People who live alone or who are looking for an outlet may find talking to a pet can help relieve pent-up stress.1
While we may not be able to measure the physical benefits of unconditional love, it is possible to see the advantages of regular exercise with a pet. People who take their dog for a walk tend to do so regularly throughout many years.2 Seniors especially can benefit from the combination of fresh air and fitness throughout their retirement.
If you’re considering getting a pet, give serious thought to the best type of pet for your needs. If you have mobility issues and/or are largely homebound, it may be better to get a cat or smaller dog that requires less physical activity.3 If you are allergic to certain types of pet hair, discuss options with your physician, which could range from short-haired pets to fish, birds or reptiles. Just about any pet makes a good listener.
Depending on your health issues, you may be able to get a service animal. Service dogs are trained to handle a wide range of tasks, from helping people in and out of bed to knowing how to help pacify an anxiety attack. However, note that service animals are not covered by insurance and can be quite expensive. You may be able to receive funding help from grants or nonprofit organizations. To learn more about service dogs, check out the following links:4
- US Dog Registry
- National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS)
- Canine Companions for Independence
1 Biogen. June 14, 2018. “The Benefits of Living with a Pet.” https://www.abovems.com/en_us/home/life/mental-emotional-health/benefits-owning-a-pet.html. Accessed July 23, 2018.
Aging: Sharpen Your Thinking Skills
The things that make each of us different may actually help keep our brains healthier for longer. You may know people in their 60s, 70s and beyond who stay remarkably sharp, while others become more forgetful and less adaptable to new situations. The fact that everyone does not experience cognitive deterioration at the same rate provides clues for ways to prevent or slow cognitive decline. In time, scientists may find a way to keep the aging brain alert — for everyone.1
The brain “thinks” in two ways. First, by processing information and instructing us on how to respond to stimuli. This type of skill generally begins to decline first, even as early as our 20s. However, the second mental skill is based on the way we retain information — we basically accrue knowledge and wisdom through life experience.2 Fortunately, we tend to hang on to this form of thinking much longer.
As we age, our brains get smaller. One study found that adults in their 70s experienced approximately 0.7 percent loss of gray matter (responsible for complex thinking skills like language and reasoning) and about 1 percent of white matter (responsible for connecting different areas of the brain) per year. Interestingly, research shows that men tend to lose more gray matter than women.3
The following are three recommendations from scientists to help keep your thinking skills agile:4
- Stop smoking — Smoking thins the outer layers of the brain that impact memory, reasoning and language skills. The good news is this thinning can reverse once a smoker gives up the vice. The reversal is gradual, but it appears the brain can return to its original thick cortical layers in about 25 years.
- Regular fitness — People who are less physically active generally have more gray-matter shrinkage in their brains. Even something as simple as regular brisk walks appear to help reduce this phenomenon.
- Learning — While crossword puzzles and other “brain training” activities are recommended for cognitive acuity, the key is to introduce your brain to new challenges. In other words, those activities are fine until you make a habit out of them, at which point they are less effective. Ongoing new challenges are more likely to have a longer lasting effect. So, complete a salsa dancing course, take a class in photography, learn to play a new instrument or speak a new language and continue to find new hobbies that actively challenge your brain.
It’s important to note that, at some point, it may make sense to put your finances on “auto-pilot.” Researching new investment opportunities may challenge your brain, but it’s no substitute for working with a qualified financial advisor. Please give us a call if you would like to discuss your options.
1 Alan J. Gow. World Economic Forum. Sept. 11, 2017. “The key to keeping your brain young? Challenge yourself.” https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/09/the-key-to-keeping-your-brain-young-challenge-yourself. Accessed July 23, 2018.
The act of walking, by itself, simply isn’t enough to protect your health. Researchers say the best advantage comes not from how regularly you walk or how many steps you take, but rather how fast you walk. One study found that those who walk at a moderately brisk pace may experience a 24 percent less risk of death from heart disease or stroke, and 20 percent less risk of early death from any cause.1
The minimum speed for a moderately brisk walk is about 3.7 mph — fast enough to break a sweat and feel slightly out of breath.2