Psychological Health Benefits of Companion Animals Following a Social Loss

Dawn C. Carr, PhD; Miles G. Taylor, PhD; Nancy R. Gee, PhD; Natalie Sachs-Ericsson, PhD

Disclosures

Gerontologist. 2020;60(3):428-438. 

In This Article

The Present Study

Like our earlier study, the present study uses the HAI experimental module from the 2012 HRS. However, the present study examines longitudinal changes in psychological health among CA owners and nonowners who experienced a social loss compared with those who did not experience a loss. We compare individuals who experience one of the two types of major social losses: spousal loss due to divorce or death. These two losses are selected because they strongly influence the close ties of middle-aged and older adults' social support structures and social network connections, and they are known to be associated with negative consequences to psychological health. We examine the differences in the effects of this loss for those with and without a pet (i.e., a dog or a cat) at the time of the loss compared with those with/without a pet who do not experience a loss. To help adjust for selection effects, we use inverse-probability weighted regression adjustment (a propensity score method), to test two primary hypotheses:

  • H1: Individuals who experience a social loss will experience overall increases in depressive symptoms. However, net of selection factors, we expect that individuals with CAs will exhibit more attenuated effects (i.e., fewer increases) on depressive symptoms than those without CAs.

  • H2: Individuals who experience a social loss will experience overall increases in loneliness. However, net of selection factors, we expect that individuals with CAs will exhibit more attenuated effects (i.e., fewer increases) on loneliness than those without CAs.

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