Volunteers needed for new study into the effects of pet bereavement on older adults

University of Birmingham researchers investigating the effects of bereavement on the immune system are looking for volunteers to help with a pioneering study.

PorgyIn this study, experts at the University are investigating the effect of pet bereavement on the immune system in older people (aged 65+). This new research follows the recent older adults bereavement study published in Brain Behaviour and Immunity, which gave biological evidence to suggest that bereavement lowers physical immunity, putting older people at risk of life-threatening infections. Academics found that the emotional stress of bereavement is associated with a drop in the efficiency of white blood cells known as neutrophils, which combat infections such a pneumonia, a major cause of death in older adults.

Knowing that pets are often important companions for older adults, behavioural medicine expert Dr Anna Phillips, of the School of Sport & Exercise Sciences, who is leading the study, is looking for participants aged 65+ who have lost a pet cat or dog in the past two months and also adults over 65 whose pet cat or dog is still with them for comparison. Volunteers will be paid reasonable travel expenses.

Dr Anna Phillips says: “Bereavement is a highly upsetting and stressful time and we believe there could be a significant physical impact as well as psychological. This new research will help us to analyse the impact of bereavement and other factors on individuals’ immune functioning.  This knowledge could impact upon patient care and medical practice.”

For more information, please contact Samantha Williams, Press Office, University of Birmingham, 0121 414 6029 or to volunteer, contact Dr Phillips or Ms Vitlic direct on 0121 414 4398 / 0121 414 8740

Participant criteria

  • This study applies to adults aged 65 years and older who have suffered bereavement within the past two months