The right animal companion can have a profound impact on the life of an elderly loved one. For example, with their specialized training, service dogs and their amazing skills can provide a level of care and affection that can rival human caregivers. Here, we will explore the introduction of animals into the elder care environment. Their very presence is almost an immediate asset when it comes to elder care management. The results are instantly recognizable.
Physical & Mental Health
It begins with a smile, followed by a clear sense of elation. Second perhaps to handing them a baby, elders tend to have this reaction to the presence of a pet. Any one of us can almost sense the immediate effect this has on stress and blood pressure when we encounter a pet, imagine how precious this physiological change can be to an elder. Grandma may be fond of her nurse but probably not so thrilled about the pills and daily routine necessary to look after such basic health aspects. Having a companion that also contributes to upkeep? What a bonus!
If Grandma always had trouble finding motivation to exercise, it probably hasn’t gotten any easier. Insert dog and you have an instant reason to walk! After all, serotonin production reduces with age. When that happens, elders experience the following:
- Overeating, especially ‘carbs’
- Sleep disturbance
Just having the pet around will already alleviate this. The exercise is just another bonus. Walking the dog will also likely lead to increased social interaction, especially if she lives in an assisted living facility or similar community.
Here & Now
No matter how mind and memory are affected by aging, it can be said that something like a GPS exists within us. Whether our elders are still living at home or in a facility, they are still like any of us in that, deep within, a sense of where they’ve been, where they should be or where they’re headed is still functioning. When reality doesn’t jibe with that sense, disorientation follows along with loneliness and depression. Whereas with an animal, the beauty lies in the fact there is never that discrepancy. For a pet, it is all about the here and now. You could say that an animal centers or recalculates your loved one’s GPS. The preoccupation with aging and ailments may now be replaced with healthier subjects such as:
- Fond memories of past pets
- Focus on something other than negatives
- Feelings of companionship
Even something as simple as taking an interest in the breed or species of a pet can be mentally stimulating. Learning how to care for the pet and the daily practice of doing so keeps an elder’s focus on the here and now.
Choose The Right Pet
“Fern has the perfect dog for her living situation. Her assisted living community is like a 5-star hotel, not just in level of service but even appearance and structure. Residents live in apartments close enough that a barking dog could pose a serious problem. That’s why Fern is lucky to have Precious, a fellow “senior citizen” that is almost preternaturally silent. Not only does Precious not make a sound, but her walks are timed like clockwork and she never makes a mess. Precious certainly accepts attention from the community but otherwise, you’d never know she’s there.”
Who knows if this perfect fit was sheer coincidence or by design? Introducing a pet into an elder’s life does raise a great deal of questions. If the pet is to be a dog, the issue of whether or not to rescue from a shelter will arise right out of the gate. The pet’s health and temperament should also be looked into.
Lastly, as mentioned above, this decision could be about more than just whether Grandma has a pet. If budget allows, and the elder’s disability requires, a service dog could be an option. Companionship is one thing; an animal that can be relied upon to perform essential functions is a whole other level of decision-making.
* Please remember companion animals when it comes to estate planning. Wills, pet trusts and pet protection agreements can certainly provide a greater sense of security for Grandma knowing that her beloved companion animal is provided for.