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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Michigan: Pets Can Help Older Adults Manage Chronic Pain

New research led by Dr. Mary Janevic, associate research scientist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, found that pets have the potential to help older adults cope and function better with chronic pain.

Dr. Janevic and her collaborators conducted four focus groups with a total of 25 men and women ages 70 and older who owned a dog and/or a cat and had persistent pain from any health condition that impacted their daily functioning. In group discussions, participants described how their pets affected their daily routines and health, including pain and pain management. 

The researchers found that many of the strategies that are recommended for self-managing chronic pain — including staying physically and socially active and engaging in distraction, relaxation, and pleasurable activities — can be facilitated by the presence of pets.

“For example, dogs might help people stick to a walking routine, and having a purring cat on your lap can be relaxing,” Dr. Janevic said. “Engaging in pet care can give a sense of daily purpose and routine that keeps a person going, even when they are having a pain flare-up. In this way, pets can be thought of as a ‘natural’ resource for chronic pain self-management.

“There is a lot of interest right now in safe, effective, non-pharmacological ways to manage long-term pain. [But] we need to think creatively about ways to motivate people to use chronic pain self-management techniques in their everyday lives. For pet owners, their furry companions may be a ‘hook’ to get them interested in pain self-management.” 

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