A heart-warming story and its accompanying video recently made the rounds on national news outlets and blogs. It told the tale of a senior who had been hospitalized and whose health was mysteriously deteriorating until he whispered to an aide that he missed his dog. The health care worker did some sleuthing and found that the gentleman’s dog had been temporarily placed in a shelter and was also in failing health. Rules were bent and the two were reunited in the hospital bed, and both are now on the road to recovery. The story is instructive, as it brings home the inestimable depth of the human/pet bond. Many people resist assisted living specifically because they do not want to give up their pet. The good news is that more and more assisted living facilities are opening their doors to companion animals.
Recognizing the Value of Pets
Recent statistics indicate that 54% of assisted living communities now allow residents to bring their dogs, cats or birds along with them when they transition into their new environment, with more recognizing the value of doing so each year. There is good reason for that. Research has shown that owning and caring for pets has a significant positive impact on people of all ages, including diminishing pain, lowering blood pressure, and increasing motivation and mood. Stress levels are lower in pet owners, and so are heart rates and cholesterol levels. Continuing to care for a pet gives additional meaning and purpose, and for seniors that is vitally important.
In addition to providing a benefit for their owners, pets add to the overall mood and well-being of the entire community. Most residents enjoy the presence of companion animals, and there are many reports of new friendships being formed as a result of a connection facilitated by an animal. Residents who might be hesitant about striking up a conversation feel much more confident approaching a stranger to ask about their pet, and the presence of animals has even been shown to diminish the incidence or extent of sundowning, a syndrome in which people with dementia become more confused at night.
Explore Your Options
If you are looking for an assisted living facility that will allow your parent to bring their pet, you will be pleasantly surprised to find how open to the idea many of them are. Most will want to ensure that your parent is able to provide all appropriate care for their animal, but some even offer pet amenities such as dog walking, litter box cleanup, and trips to the groomer and veterinarian. In all cases you will find that the assisted living facility will want to ensure that the animals are appropriate and well-mannered enough for their community.
If your parents don’t currently have an animal but you are contemplating the benefits that owning one might hold, you can speak with the assisted living facility personnel to explore your options. Residential care professionals understand that the transition from the familiarity of home into an assisted living community can be stressful, and they have found that the love and attention received from and bestowed on an animal can ease loneliness and disorientation. Some assisted living facilities already have community pets that have been adopted from local shelters based on their sweet, calm temperaments. This provides the advantage of contact with an animal without the responsibility of providing care. Others go so far as to encourage residents to adopt senior pets for companionship and have formed partnerships with rescue organizations to facilitate the process.