Call it what you will – pet therapy, pet-assisted therapy, or pets caring for elderly owners – the benefits of animal ownership for seniors have been documented and understood for decades. Pets help relieve stress, alleviate boredom and provide devotion and companionship for elders across the country. Loneliness is a contributor to the failing health of many seniors. Ensure the quality of life for your parent by taking every opportunity to expose him or her to resources that will help prevent boredom, depression, and feelings of inadequacy or lack of self-worth. Cats and dogs are the most common types of pets owned by the elderly, but rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and turtles are also popular choices. Pet ownership can:
Lower blood pressure
Encourage activity for seniors
Offer a greater sense of worth
Offer security to their owners
There’s nothing so comforting as to be able to hug a pet and be rewarded with a trusting look, a wag of the tail and even a sloppy kiss or two. Back in 1980, Erika Friedmann, PhD, and professor of Health and Nutrition Sciences for Brooklyn College in New York, studied the effect of pets on heart disease patients. Her co-researcher, Aaron Katcher, MD, reported, “The presence of a pet was the strongest social predictor of survival … not just for lonely or depressed people, but everyone – independent of marital status and access to social support from human beings.” Only a few years later, another study was performed that showed the benefits of animal ownership by elderly individuals:
95% spent time each day talking to his or her pet
82% said that owning a pet made them feel better when they were sad
65% said petting or caressing their pets made them feel better
57% actually confided fears and worries to their pets
Pets offer the elderly, both those living at home and those in assisted living or long-term care facilities, comfort and companionship. Experts speak out on pets for the elderly Pets for the Elderly Foundation gives results from the Baker Medical Research Institute, Australia’s largest cardiac center, on its research page. Studies show that pet ownership:
Reduced rates of developing heart disease
Lowered cholesterol levels
Reduced systolic blood pressure in female owners
The Pet Information Bureau in Washington, D.C., believes that pet ownership is “especially important in increasing interest in life – pets give the elderly something to care for, as well as providing an opportunity for exercise and socialization.”
U.S. News & World Report reviewed more than two dozen studies and determined that, “residents exposed to pets consistently smiled more and became measurably more alert than those who did not encounter animals” (U.S. News & World Report, February, 1992). The ASPCA promotes animal ownership for the elderly as well, due to the fact that “quality time spent with an animal can be used to manage behavior, stimulate memory, encourage muscle groups to work in harmony and much, much more” (Micky Niegro, ASPCA Animal Watch). No matter what you call it, the benefits of combining the elderly with pets can hardly be denied. Caring for the elderly means offering them every opportunity to care for others, while at the same time caring for themselves.
How to Find the Right Pet for a Senior
While the advantages of pet ownership are undeniable, there are some drawbacks and consequences to be aware of before going out to adopt a furry friend for an aging loved one. Dr. Donnenfeld encourages seniors and caregivers to have a thorough conversation about pet ownership before welcoming a pet into the family.
10 Questions to Ask When Considering a Pet for a Senior:
Is the senior set in their ways?
If change isn’t your loved one’s cup of tea, then they may not be a good candidate. Adopting an animal usually affects a person’s whole daily routine.
Have they had a pet before?
Amy Sherman, licensed therapist and author of Distress-Free Aging: A Boomer’s Guide to Creating a Fulfilled and Purposeful Life, thinks it’s best if the elderly person is an experienced owner. However, if they are open to a new and rewarding commitment, then first-timers can still make great owners.
Does the senior have any disabilities or functional limitations?
“Dogs can be wonderful companions who encourage a senior to exercise,” Dr. Donnenfeld says. But dogs can be a challenge for individuals with limited mobility. If taking a dog outside and walking it is too trying, lower-maintenance animals like cats and birds may be preferable.
Would a therapeutic or emotional support animal be beneficial?
If a person is very infirmed or impaired, they may be a candidate for a specially trained therapy dog to help them function both at home and while on outings.
What age pet would be best?
A puppy or kitten may not be ideal for elderly owners because of the intensive care and training they require. Furthermore, young pets may outlive their owners. It’s important to consider that some animals like birds have especially long life spans. On the other hand, a senior pet may have its own physical limitations and illnesses but they are usually well trained already.
What temperament would be a good fit for the senior?
It is very important to research different breeds’ characteristics and interact with prospective adoptees to get a feel for their energy levels and personality. “Many older people might think they’d do better with a Jack Russell Terrier because it’s a small breed, but they are very, very, very high energy and require a great deal of effort and commitment,” says Susan Daffron, author of Happy Hound: Develop a Great Relationship with Your Adopted Dog or Puppy. While there are some general truths about specific breeds, every animal is unique.
Is the pet healthy?
It’s important that any pet be examined by a professional prior to adoption. “You don’t want to compromise an older person’s immune system since some pets carry diseases,” says Dr. Katharine Hillestad, a veterinarian based in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Unhealthy pets can be difficult for seniors to handle both emotionally and financially.
One pet or two?
While multiple pets can keep each other company, that may not be a good idea for an older person. “Two animals may bond with each other rather than with their owner,” Dr. Hillestad explains.
Are finances an issue?
Pets are a significant long-term financial commitment. A small puppy can rack up more than $810 for food, medical care, toys and grooming just in its first year. A low-maintenance animal like a fish is less expensive, coming in at about $235, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Be sure to carefully consider a senior’s current budget before taking home any animal.
Is there a backup plan in place for the pet?
It isn’t pleasant to think about, but owners must plan for the unexpected for their pets, too. If a senior had to go to the hospital, spend time in a short-term rehabilitation facility, move to a long-term care community or even passes away, what would happen to their animal(s)? Our golden years can be very unpredictable, so it’s important to have a contingency plan in place for our furry and feathered friends before an emergency strikes. Without one, beloved animals may wind up back in a shelter.
Where to Find a Pet for a Senior
While breeders are a good source, adopting from shelters is usually much less expensive and comes with the added benefits of giving an unwanted animal a home and possibly saving it from euthanasia. Some shelters even offer reduced adoption fees for older pets and adopters age 55 and up.
Shelter employees often know each animal’s personality well and can assist in making a good match, says Daffron. Online pet shopping is also possible; however, it’s still recommended to meet a potential pet in person to more accurately gauge the fit.
We Are Here for Our Patients and Their Best Friends
At TransMedCare, we witness the amazing gift of comfort provided by pets on a regular basis. We welcome pets and family members to accompany patients during long distance transport to help them happy and calm, especially when relocating for medical treatment, rehabilitation, or returning home to the care of family.
If you or a loved one is in need of caring and professional non-emergency medical transportation for a distance of 300+ miles, we are here to help. Contact us at https://trans-medcare.com/contact-us/, or call us day or night at 888-984-3722. We provide personal attention and adhere strictly to CDC guidelines for hygienic protocol. Patients travel in comfort with a memory foam mattress, TV/DVD, and the convenience of an on-board bathroom. Medications and O2 are administrated as directed by skilled professionals. All meals are provided. We are committed to providing a safe and comfortable journey for our patients and their best friends.
Sources: ParentGiving / AgingCare
From your initial contact, we start the process of coordinating your loved one’s transport bedside to bedside.
TransMedCare provides the following non-emergency medical transportation services:
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TransMedCare is a Non-Emergency Transportation Business. (Transports must be 300+ miles.)