MEDICAL RESEARCH | Pets May Help Older Adults Manage Chronic Pain

People with pets may be able to use their companion animals to practice technique for managing chronic pain without medication, researchers say.

In focus group interviews, pet owners over age 70 with chronic pain said their pets brought them joy and laughter, helped them relax, kept them active, and promoted other good habits that can also be marshaled to  manage pain, the study team writes in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

‘In part because of the opioid crisis, there is more interest than ever in how people can use cognitive and behavioral strategies to manage common chronic pain condition with less reliance on medication”, said study leader Mary Janevic, an associate research scientist at the School of Public Health of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

This self-management “toolbox” includes relaxation techiniques, physical activity, interaction with pets, and a problem-solving approach to minimize pain’s interference with life, she said.

“This is especially important in older adults, who often experience more harmful side-effects from medication than younger people do”, Janevic told Reuters Health by email.

The study team conducted focus groups with 25 dog and cat owners who had experienced persistent pain at least half of their days during the prior six month. The owners lived full-time with their pet and interacted four or more times per day through petting, talking to, playing with, walking with, sitting with, feeding or grooming their pet.

The owners described how their pets affect their daily routines and health, including pain, fatigue and barriers to pet care. The research team analyzed the transcription for themes and categories matching the types of techniques used in pain management: mood management, relaxation, distraction, physical activity, behavioral changes, social interaction and sleep.

Overall, pet owners reported that their animals increased positive feelings, had a soothing presence, encouraged activity through walking, motivated activity even when they were in pain, facilitated socializing, and encouraged a regular daily routine and sleep routine. They described their pets as sources of comfort, patience, support and protection. Importantly, pets “kept them going” and helped them to avoid a downward spiral of inactivity, which can lead to mood problems and more pain. “My partner died two years ago, and then his children sued me, so it was really a terrible


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