• Dog walking and the social impact of the covid-19 pandemic on loneliness in older adults

      Carr, Dawn; Friedmann, Erika; Gee, Nancy R.; Gilchrist, Chelsea; Sachs-Ericsson, Natalie; Koodaly, Lincy (MDPI AG, 2021-06-22)
      Pet ownership can provide important companionship and facilitate social connections, which may be particularly important to socially isolated older adults. Given the significant deleterious impact of loneliness on health and wellbeing in later life, many predicted that public safety measures imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic would greatly increase loneliness, particularly among vulnerable populations like older adults. We investigated whether dog walking buffers loneliness in the context of stressors imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Longitudinal survey data were obtained from a Florida community-based sample of adults (n = 466) aged 60+ years old in September 2018 and October 2020. Using OLS regression models, we tested: a) the association between the social consequences of COVID-19 and changes in loneliness, and b) the buffering effect of dog walking on this relationship. The high social consequences of COVID-19 were related to increases in loneliness. Walking a dog daily buffered the relationship. These results suggest potential therapeutic effects of dog walking for the promotion of mental health in older adults, particularly in the context of stressful situations that accentuate risks for loneliness.