Kangaroos help older people bounce back

Research has found that fostering relationships with native Australian wildlife can enhance well being for older people.

Research has found that fostering relationships with native Australian wildlife can enhance well being for older people.

Professor Evonne Miller

The study, undertaken by a team of Queensland researchers, is among the first to show that older people living in the community can develop beneficial ongoing relationships with wildlife like kookaburras, kangaroos, lizards and birds.

“Older adults’ engagement with companion animals and wildlife facilitates social connections, and physical and mental well-being,” the paper, published in the latest issue of the Australasian Journal on Ageing, found.

The researchers say their findings have practical implications for policy makers and urban planners with regard to maximising opportunities for older people to engage with green spaces and native wildlife.

Domestic pets versus wildlife

The researchers looked at the experiences of 103 older adults aged between 50 and 92 and their interactions with both companion animals and wildlife in the home and community.

Most participants (60 per cent) had at least one pet, with 14 per cent having two pets and 23 per cent three or more. The participants reported that companion animals, wildlife and nature played a significant positive role in their day-to-day lives.

The study found that pets are helpful at filling a void in later life, brought about by children leaving home or the death of a spouse, and can be “critical” during times of loss and grief.

However, pet ownership comes with its own challenges, including costs and the burden of looking after them, and the fear of pets dying.

Forty per cent of participants who did not own pets cited cost and problems finding pet-friendly accommodation as reasons for not owning one.

Connecting with wild and native Australian animals, on the other hand, could give older people a way to connect with animals without the work and commitment of ownership, the study says.

Positive contribution to quality of life

One of researchers, Professor Evonne Miller, who directs the QUT Design lab, said the findings arose from a study into what older Australians wanted from housing.

“We didn’t really anticipate that the role of pets and native animals would come up as strongly as it did,” she told Community Care Review.

“But it came up that one of the challenges of looking for housing as you age is that you can lose pets,  so pets came out as an unusual but interesting side issue.”

Professor Miller says previous studies have shown pets can play a critical companion role for older people.

“What was surprising was the role of native animals. Most of us will have local animals that we might interact with, it might be lizards to your birds,” she said.

“What we wanted to do in this paper was rethink, as you age and don’t feel able to have the expense of having that domestic pet, perhaps we can look at native animals as a replacement or supplement.”

She says the findings support the case for redesigning the built environment to better connect people with the natural world.

“The message here is for urban planners, councils and citizens themselves to advocate more that we need to go back to a built form with more nature in it, and nature includes space for animals.”

Comment on the story below. Follow Community Care Review on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and sign up to our newsletter.

Tags: companion-animals, pets,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *