Pets Provide Physiological Benefits For Women Living Alone

Santa Fe, N.M. -- Human companionship is critical for physical, as well as emotional, well-being, studies have shown. Contact with family and friends can help prevent the age-related rise in blood pressure that can increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.

Unfortunately, a growing number women, particularly older women, live alone, often in isolation.

New research from the University at Buffalo presented here today (March 21, 1997) shows that for these individuals, a four-legged friend may be nearly as effective in keeping blood pressure down as the two-legged variety.

"The bottom line is, we have demonstrated that elderly women living alone who are attached to their pets and have nobody else derive physiological benefits that are similar to those derived from human companionship," said Karen Allen, Ph.D., UB research scientist and lead author of the study.

"We don't know if pets substitute for human companionship. It's possible pets provide humans with some quantity we don't understand. What is clear, however, is that our attempts to understand biological aging are incomplete without considering social factors."

Allen presented the results of the study, which also showed some benefit for younger women, at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society.

The study was conducted over six months and involved 100 women who lived alone. Half were in their mid-20s, the other half were in their early 70s. Twenty-five women in each group had a dog or cat to which they were very attached. The other 25 in each group had never owned a pet. Of the young pet-owners, 17 had dogs and 8 had cats. The breakdown for the older pet-owners was 9 dogs and 16 cats.

All participants completed a questionnaire during the first week about social support, pet attitudes and their sense of control over their health. Participants' blood pressure and heart rate were taken at home four times during th

Contact: Lois Baker
University at Buffalo

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