Are Pets the Best Prescription for Elderly Health Care?

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pets2If laughter is the best medicine, pets must be the second best elderly health care prescription.

Why are pets a key component of elder care wellness?

Pet ownership reduces stress, loneliness and anxiety.

Walking a dog encourages exercise and provides an easy way to connect with others.

Stroking a pet reduces blood pressure.

Pets provide unconditional love and acceptance which increases self esteem.

Moving to a senior care community does not mean leaving behind pets.  Small dogs and cats are often welcome at senior care communities and provide a much needed sense of continuity as living arrangements change.  Do what you can to avoid separating your parent from his pet.

If your parent does not currently have a pet and would like to adopt an animal, check with your local animal shelter.  Some shelters know the health care benefits of pet ownership and offer discounts or special programs to support senior pet owners.  An older, potentially less active pet may be a better fit for your parent than a young animal.  Also take time to think through what would happen to your parent's pet if his senior care needs change and pet ownership is no longer a possibility.

Pets can sometimes be fall hazards for frail seniors.  Follow pet safety guidelines to make pet ownership as safe as possible for your parent.

Pet Safety Guidelines:

  • Discourage pets from sleeping in passage ways like hallways
  • Turn on the lights when moving around the house at night
  • Keep pet toys picked up
  • Make sure the pet's food and water station is not in a highly trafficked area
  • Dogs should attend obedience school to learn not to pull on their leash or jump on their owners causing falls

If pet ownership is not right for your parent you can add the benefits of animal companionship in other ways.  Speak with your parent's senior care community to see if they include regular animal therapy visits in their activities programming.  If they are not currently having animal therapy visits, contact your local shelter to find out if they offer an animal assisted therapy or can put you in touch with other local agencies that do.

A loving pet can be your best eldercare assistant.  Share how pets have made a difference in your parent's life.

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-- Janice Wallace

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