Pet ownership, physical exercise and the purchase, installation and use of home therapy tubs are part of a growing trend of health and lifestyle activities for seniors as their percentage of the population grow and more choose to stay at home, business experts say at a conference on aging.
Elderly consumers are faced with a staggering array of choices to support their style of life as they move more away from long-term care of three decades ago and closer to aging in place, say three panelists during the “Aging in America” conference by the American Society on Aging in downtown Chicago.
The panelists made their observations at a conference presentation titled “The Future of Home, Work and Play: Travel, Pets, Lifestyle and Love” and moderated by Joshua Iverson, founder and president of iMediaSalesTeam, a Boston-based company of online advertisement sales professionals aimed at serving the Baby Boomer generation market.
Carey Kyler, vice president of Portfolio Strategy at AARP, a position which involves leading marketing strategy for people over age 50 in travel, entertainment, online social connections, volunteerism and leisure time activity, said that pets motivate seniors to start or resume physical activity, a significant benefit.
Kyler explained that research showed about 75 percent of older Americans aged 50 and over are overweight or obese and would find an advantage in walking and playing with a pet dog.
Additionally, she said pet owners in general are more sociable than those without them as pets can help a senior grieve the loss of a spouse, family member or friend, are attentive and sympathetic and can decrease healthcare costs among senior patients.
“You must be active,” Kyler said of seniors. “People with pets are more [sociable]. [Pets prove that you can form] new friendships [with a] perfect stranger. [They can] eat the loss of a loved one or broken relationship. [They cater to a person’s capacity] to serve another [after the death of a spouse.] They are nonjudgmental and caring.”
Aside from “guaranteed affection and unconditional love,” she said that pet ownership decreases healthcare costs from 5 to 20 percent annually, increasing a patient’s survival rates from a cardiovascular incident, lowering blood pressure, regulating a person’s heart rate and relieving stress.
Kyler related a story about a male AARP customer whose life was changed by owning dogs as part of a healthcare decision he made when he experienced his worst physical fall and injury.
“The fall changed [his] life,” she said. “He got out more and made [more] friends. [He was] healthier and [was] getting more exercise. He made a lot of spending decisions.”
His decisions, she said, included frequenting only restaurants and eating establishments, medical facilities and senior care settings and occupying other public spaces that would accommodate his dogs.
“He would only went to places [that] allowed [him] to take his dogs,” Kyler said. “When he was admitted to [the] hospital, [the] first thing he asked about [was whether] they knew of [the most appropriate] food to [feed his dogs] — his kibbels. They know that there is someone [or something in his life]. Pets have made a huge difference in his life.”
With the life-changing effects of pet ownerships on seniors and other individuals, businesses that serve the senior market must implement a series of tried-and-true strategies to promote relationships between the elderly and animals, Kyler said.
She added that such approaches have worked for AARP in reaching out to seniors, including the use of internal communication networks and a presence on YouTube online.
“If you think it will make a difference with a business, you need a budget, a business plan and resources,” she said to senior-oriented businesses.
“You can add pet images to [a senior] marketing [campaign]. [You can] add specific content to those [senior-geared marketing materials] with pets. [You can] align with a pet business [for a] Take [Your] Dog To Work Day to lower stress and improve pet adoptions. [You can] spin pet charities that align with your marketplace. [You can] bring pets to [tradeshow] events [and] consumer shows.”
Kristen Levine, president and founder of Fetching Communications, a Tampa, Fla.-based international public relations and marketing agency for the $53.33 billion pet and veterinary industries, and PetPR.com, and a pet lifestyle expert who owns a dog, two cats and a pair of donkeys with her husband, agreed, stating that such strategies have worked for her company with her global clientele.
Fetching Communications’ customers include pet product manufacturers, pet industry service providers, veterinary specialists, diagnostic companies, industry associations and veterinary colleges, Levine said.
Such private- and public-sector customers include NoviPet, Pet Dental Services, DOGTV, Steadfast Friends, Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services (CARES), Veterinary Center of Colorado (VRCC), Charleston Veterinary Referral Center (CVRC), Bissell Homecare, PetSafe, PETSYNC Education Services, Toyota Pet Expert Team (P.E.T.) and CheapPetDrugs.com.