Overview of Findings:
Satomi Village was chosen for this study because 30.0% of the population consists of residents aged 65 and over. Many of the elderly live there alone. Satomi thus serves as an appropriate model of the aging society in the future. There are many problems such as growing burdens of health, medical, and social welfare services.
For their March 1999 study, Dr. Saitos team randomly selected 400 out of the 1,345 people aged 65 or older in Satomi Village. The subjects were sent questionnaires with questions on the seven IADL criteria (ability to use the telephone, take public transportation or drive to remote locations, do necessary shopping, prepare meals, do necessary household chores, self-administer medication, and manage ones own pension and bank accounts) as well as questions regarding companion animals (including current pet ownership history, type of animal, length of relationship with animal, and past pet ownership). The 339 valid responses were then used as the basis for a logistic regression analysis (a method of explaining the probability that a phenomenon will occur given multiple specified variables).
The results clearly indicated that there were fewer cases of IADL disabilities among subjects who had experienced caring for pets compared to subjects who lacked pets. This survey alone, however, did not produce results sufficient enough to determine whether caring for pets maintains IADL capabilities at high levels or whether people who already have good IADL capabilities are more likely to own pets.
In May 2003, the subjects of the initial study were revisited with a follow-up survey focusing on changes in IADL capabilities over the intervening four years. This time, the survey items also included questions on the time spent interacting with pets and the levels of affection for the animals.
Of the 225 subjects who gave valid responses, 96 were still caring for dogs and/or cats, while 53 had no experience with pets. Of all subjects whose IADL capabilities had been maintained or improved over the previous four years, 77% had no pet ownership experience, while 90% owned companion animals and reported regular feeding and petting. In addition, among the pet owners, nearly half of those who declined to select responses such as I like my pet, My pet brings happiness to my life, and I often speak to my pet had experienced a decline in IADL proficiency. Thus, trends in IADL capability were very clearly divided between pet owners who showed affection for their companion animals and those who did not.
We learned that the significant factor in maintaining or improving IADL is not simply pet ownership, but continuous interaction and emotional communication with a companion animal that the person feels affection for, said Dr. Saito.