Just as nursing homes and other senior care facilities have seen the therapeutic benefits of bringing dogs into visit patients, so too can a pet enhance the quality of life for your aging parents. Animals provide benefits to individuals that medical and other therapies can compare with; the cases of blood pressure being lowered simply by petting an animal have long been documented. Regardless of the reasons, having a pet in the household may help to keep your elderly family members active and healthy.
Here are five ways that having a companion animal in the house may help your aging relatives age-in-place:
- Keeping active. When you own an animal – whether a cat, dog, bird or other – you have to feed it, care for it and walk it. The idea of having to take care of another living being can give your aging relatives a reason to get out of bed in the morning. While you certainly don’t want to have a rambunctious puppy underfoot, a senior dog could fit the bill.
- Man (or woman’s) best friend. A pet can provide companionship and this is especially helpful for a widow or widower. A pet can help combat loneliness which can lead to emotional and physical declines in health.
- Keeping up with routines. With a pet you need to feed it, walk it and give it attention and the routines are a great way to keep the mind of an aging person engaged. Because everyone understands that pets need certain attention, it can also motivate the elderly to properly take care of themselves as well. A pet can add meaning to an elderly person’s life.
- Having little or no contact with friends or family or social interaction through church groups or other organizations can lead to emotional issues and even dementia. If you have an aging parent that has been withdrawing from social interaction, a pet may naturally draw them out and get them more involved with family.
- A reason to live. Having a pet to care for may actually extend your aging parents life. When you consider the reasons above, pet ownership provides the elderly with a reason to get out of bed in the morning and the sheer fact of having to be active to take care of the pet could lead to a longer, healthier life for your aging relative.
You certainly don’t want to rush out and adopt a pet for your parents unless you’ve talked with them first. Also, you will need to make arrangements for the pet in the event your parents can no longer care for it. It’s unfair to the pet to be given up for adoption simply because your parents can no longer care for it; a contingency plan needs to be put into place as to which family member will take the pet into his home when your parents can’t care for it. When you add a pet and a home medical alert device to your parent’s home, you are adding layers of protection, companionship and peace-of-mind that will allow them to age safely in place.