Pets Can Become a Caregiver's Assistant
By Jean Donahue
While I was taking
care of Mom and Dad, I had a cat that my kids left me when they moved away
from home. That cat turned out to be a big help with my parents.
first 2-1/2 years, we traveled in a 32-foot travel trailer I pulled with a
Suburban. We lived in Vancouver Island in the summer and Arizona and Texas
in the winter.
we were traveling to our destination, Mom would sit in the back seat with
Hobbes and take care of him. She talked to him, told him everything would
be all right when he meowed, and asked him how he liked the trip. When it
was time to go inside the trailer, she made sure he was taken in first.
always said he didn't like cats, but he made sure I had a cat when I was
younger. He enjoyed watching Hobbes and made sure Hobbes had everything he
needed. One time Dad dropped a cracker on the floor. Hobbes ran over and
smelled it, then licked it, then ate it. Of course, Dad gave him another
one. A couple days later Dad was opening a package of crackers when Hobbes
heard the rattling and ran over. Dad laughed and gave him another cracker.
After that Dad made sure I had a dish of crumbled crackers sitting out for
had read how much the elderly like it when someone brings animals to their
nursing home, but I didn't realize how much it meant to them until I took
care of Mom and Dad. You see, Hobbes was very much my caregiving assistant
with Mom and Dad.
elderly face retirement, loss of friends and/or their spouse, serious
illness, moving from their home of many years to a smaller place or a
nursing home, and the inability to continue living their own lives the way
they want. They face life coming to an end as well as loneliness and
insecurity. A pet can be a friend that helps the elderly through the major
upheavals in their life. Pets and people respond to each other with
warmth, affection and unconditional love.
right animal wants love and attention from their owner, even in a nursing
home, and the owner completes the circle by responding with love and
attention. The elderly person gives the pet love and attention, then the
animal responds to that love by wagging its tail, purring, or some other
appropriate response. Some elderly in nursing homes find long-lost
happiness when they start interacting with a pet.
presence of pets has been responsible for helping people heal faster,
lower blood pressure, decrease pain episodes, bring smiles and
encouragement, increase interaction with other people, enhance
self-awareness and reality orientation, decrease anger and stress, provide
topics for conversation, spark memories to talk about as well as fill the
need to touch something that is alive in a loving manner. The lives of the
elderly are enriched and improved when they routinely spend time with a
short, this becomes pet therapy.
practice of taking pets on visits to the elderly started 20 to 30 years
ago. At first, just a few people took their pets to a nursing home, but it
has evolved into a more sophisticated program. Some nursing homes and
other living facilities have pets living there, but most make it possible
for pets to visit residents. There is even a business trade for providing
pets to homes. Residents are encouraged to hold the animals, but those who
don't want to be in contact with an animal are not forced to participate.
health of pets that live with or visit the elderly need to be screened
very carefully, and a veterinarian should be involved. The vet should
perform regular health screenings and keep a close eye on the pet for any
changes that could signal a problem. People who bring in the animals
should be trained to help the elderly interact with a pet.
you can, make it possible for your loved one to have contact with a loving
pet. The pet need not be a cat or dog. It can be a rabbit, bird, fish,
lizard or any other non-threatening animal they like. It will enrich their
life, and yours as well.