The Main Health Concern for Older People and a Great Way to Take Care of It

What would you say the most serious health concern for older people is?

If you think it is a heart condition, cancer or Alzheimer’s, you would be wrong. Actually the most serious one is . . . loneliness. In the United States today, 18% of those over 65 live alone. 43% of those say they are lonely.

There are many different factors which can cause an elderly person to feel lonely. Here are some:

  • Death of a spouse or a loved one
  • Loss of friends
  • Shrinking social network
  • A physical disability restricting the ability to get around

Why is Loneliness More Serious Than the Other Conditions?

Simply, because it leads to and aggravates the other conditions, including depression, heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, arthritis and impaired mobility.

How does Loneliness lead to and aggravate these conditions? When a person is lonely, they

  • typically get depressed
  • forget to take their medications regularly
  • may not sleep as well
  • don’t eat properly,
  • indulge in risky habits, like smoking or drinking
  • stop exercising and other forms of physical activity.

What Can People Do to Avoid Loneliness?

There are many different things. Here are some:

  • Get out of the house regularly and take part in activities at a local senior center.
  • Do volunteer work.
  • Take classes and learn something new.
  • Get together regularly with friends.
  • Adopt and care for a pet.

As you can see, most of these require the person to get out of their home. They still spend most of their time at home. What do they do to combat loneliness there?

The Best is a Pet for Companionship

Research shows a cat or dog helps improve a person’s mental and physical health. It provides companionship and friendship. While the owner cares for it, it also cares for the owner. A pet also loves unconditionally.

A dog also enables its owner to get out and meet other people. It’s amazing. When walking a dog, a person suddenly has something in common with everyone also walking their dog.

They’re just anxious to tell them about their dog and find out about the other’s. That turns into conversations about themselves. Friendships develop which may never have if the dogs weren’t there.

If you are lonely now, you may want to consider getting a dog or cat to keep you company. You will be amazed at how you will benefit from this new companion.

If you have an elderly parent or relative who is living alone, ask them if they have ever thought about getting a dog or cat. If they would like to, this just might be the right time to go with them to pick one out.


Some older people may love to have a pet. However, they are just scraping by monthly on the money they have. They just can’t afford one. The Office on Aging has a special program to help those in this situation. It is Knox PAWS. The Project LIVE staff administers it.

They work with area animal shelters to match eligible older people with adoptable pets. To be eligible for this program a person must

  • be 60 or older and a resident of Knox County
  • have a monthly income of $1,465 or less
  • live independently in a pet-friendly environment

The dogs and cats available for adoption typically are 7 years of age or older. Normally these dogs and cats are already trained and tend to be gentler, calmer companions.

The Project LIVE Staff Makes Pet Adoption Easy

A person on the staff will go out and do an assessment to make sure the living area is pet friendly and the person is able to care for the pet.

They then will take the person to the animal shelter and help in the selection of the pet.

There are periodic follow-ups afterwards to see how everything is going.

Pets adopted through this program are given an initial medical exam, vaccinated, microchip and are spayed or neutered. The person adopting is provided with six months of heartworm and flea prevention medication for their new pet.

If a participant cannot afford pet food, it is provided through the Feed A Pet Project (a partnership of the UT College of Veterinary Medicine and RSVP).

There is no cost for adopting a dog or cat. All of the costs associated with this program are covered by Knox PAWS. Funding for this valuable program comes from the Grey Muzzle Association, the Banfield Charitable Trust and local donations.

If you are an older person interested in adopting a pet through the Knox PAWS program or have a family member or friend who may be interested, please call Project Live at 865-524-2786.


Once a year a fund-raising event is held for the Knox PAWS program. That is PAWS Among the Blooms. That is being held at Stanley’s Greenhouse on May 12. Here is more information on it:

Friday, May 12, 2017
5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
At Stanley’s Greenhouse
3029 Davenport Rd. in South Knoxville
Tickets are $30 at the door

We would like to invite you to join us. You will have a great time. Drop by any time between 5:30 and 7:30 for a relaxing time. Enjoy the live music, hors d’oeuvres, plants and flowers. There will also be a silent auction. Your pet is welcome to join you.

At this event, you will be able to find out more about Knox PAWS. You will also get to talk to others and find out about how they found out about this great program. You just might make some new friends.