In a continuing effort to combat social isolation, the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) and Association on Aging in New York (AgingNY) have partnered with Pets Together, a national non-profit organization, to connect older New Yorkers with the therapeutic power of pets using the Pets Together video chat service, which offers social interactions aimed at reducing loneliness and stress.
Older New Yorkers can learn more about this free program and reserve a virtual visit directly at https://petstogether.org.
A Pets Together video visit is approximately 30 minutes in length. Older adults who participate get to meet with volunteer pet-owners to see and learn about their pets. More importantly, the conversation offers an opportunity for engagement aimed at combatting social isolation. Featured pets include everything from dogs to bearded dragons, cats to ponies, goats and birds.
In 2017, the U.S. Surgeon General declared social isolation to be a “global epidemic” – one that has only worsened in the COVID-19 health emergency. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, social isolation drives $6.7 billion in additional associated Medicare spending per year.
The health consequences of loneliness and isolation are equivalent to smoking almost a pack of cigarettes daily. Studies have also shown that interacting with animals is an effective antidote: lowering blood pressure and reducing loneliness, stress, or anxiety.
NYSOFA Director Greg Olsen said: “Pets are known for their therapeutic abilities, and they are also great conversation starters. These two factors combined go a long way in helping to reduce the major health implications associated with loneliness and social isolation. We are thrilled to work with Pets Together and the Association on Aging in New York to bring this powerful form of contact and social connection directly to older adults no matter where they live. We encourage older adults to try it out.”
The Pets Together partnership is the newest in a series of creative efforts undertaken by NYSOFA to combat social isolation, helping to supplement formally structured social programs offered by Area Agencies on Aging and their partners.
It is also NYSOFA’s second initiative leveraging the healing power of pets. NYSOFA’s animatronic pet project is providing older New Yorkers with 3,500 “lifelike” robotic pets that provide comfort and companionship. The program has a proven track record of reducing self-reported loneliness by 70%.
NYSOFA has also forged recent collaborations with GetSetUp, an online learning community that is connecting 54,000 older New Yorkers to interactive classes which help promote physical, mental, and social health.