HAVING a pet has been linked to less depression and loneliness in the elderly. A study published in 2008 in Australia entitled "Identifying the Need for Companion Animal Support for the Home and Community Care Target Population" found that elderly people who kept a pet were less likely to suffer from depression and loneliness and had a heightened feeling of self worth.
According to Lynn Fitzpatrick – manager at animal and the elderly advocacy group, Real Animals Pets and People – who conducted the research, animals can have a good impact on the elderly.
"There is ample evidence that pet ownership has a positive impact on health and wellbeing and may be beneficial in supporting frail older people and people with disabilities to remain living independently in the community and participating in the community through social and physical activity."
Joy Bosch, who lives at the CP Bradfield Frail Care Home in Sunridge Park, Port Elizabeth, said the communal cat at the home was a source of solace for her.
"When they brought her in the first time, I was in the hallway and the matron kind of just left her with me. I really do love Ginger, he offers me companionship. He also offers me so much love, comfort and affection," she said.
"The relationship I have with him is different, he tells me he loves me just by looking at me. And he doesn't just do it with me, he walks around the centre and he is spreading love and giving the people here something to hold onto."
Another report from the Waltham Book of Human-Animal Interactions in America shows that women in nursing homes would rather play with a rabbit for an hour than have time to do whatever they want.
Similarly, a study by the American Geriatrics Society found pet ownership by the elderly increased activity and the ability to handle stress and lowered blood pressure.
Head matron at CP Bradfield, Margie Kampman, said Ginger the cat contributed to the general well-being of the people who lived there.
"Even stroke patients who are here react to the cat. It has a major input into how they are. The patients want to touch her and you can see the emotions change in them when he is around – it connects with them on an emotional level," she said.
"It is really making a difference in what can be seen as a sad part of their lives. The cat curls up in their beds and is just there for them, you really cannot buy the value of an animal."