Pets and Healthy Aging: More Than a Walk in the Park

For Immediate Release
December 17, 2018

Contact: Todd Kluss
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The image of Sully, a yellow Labrador service animal, lying in front of the casket of former President George H.W. Bush will be a lasting memory for many Americans.

As research is still emerging on the benefits and challenges of animal companions in the older adult population, The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) has been working with partners to stimulate scholarship and report evidence-based information on this topic. One result is a comprehensive new online brochure titled “The Role of Pets in Human Healthy Active Aging.”

“Everyone interested in aging can benefit by reading this document,” said Ian McDonough, PhD, of the University of Alabama, who served as peer reviewer. “Older adults can learn about the benefits of taking care of a pet — such as exercise that will be sustained over time, unlike diets or going to the gym. Gerontologists and geriatricians can learn about strong, consistent evidence that pet ownership is associated with less depression and stress.”

The brochure is available on the GSA website at, and is the product of a multiyear alliance with WALTHAM/Mars Petcare to examine HAI among older adults and increase knowledge of animal-assisted interventions.

“The interaction with the pet provides companionship for older individuals, but equally important are the relationships that individuals experience by virtue of pet ownership,” wrote former GSA President Barbara Resnick, PhD, RN, CRNP, FAAN, FAANP, FGSA, in the foreword to the brochure. “Walking a dog in the neighborhood, for example, often results in meeting others doing likewise and engaging in relationships or interactions with these individuals on a daily basis.”

GSA is working to support its members with an interest in the field of HAI.

“This area of research provides an opportunity for those wanting to assess the cognitive effects of pet ownership,” McDonough said. “Older adults have to pay attention to pets, look for changes in behavior, and watch for traffic and things on the ground while walking. This could prove to be a simple way of maintaining executive functions and exercising one’s memory.”

Like Sully, companion animals can make a world of difference for older adults. But the paybacks don’t stop there. “A pet rescued from a shelter is a really dual-benefit situation,” McDonough said. “The pet can bring meaning to the life of an older adult, and the older adult is rescuing an animal who might otherwise be put down.”


The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) is the nation's oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging. The principal mission of the Society — and its 5,500+ members — is to advance the study of aging and disseminate information among scientists, decision makers, and the general public. GSA’s structure also includes a policy institute, the National Academy on an Aging Society, and an educational unit, the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education.

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