If you provide eldercare for one or more parents, you might want to consider adding a pet to your caregiving routine. Pets have long been recognized as having special qualities that can help people with a range of challenges, especially those requiring senior care. Pets have been shown to lift mood among the depressed, stimulate conversation among the isolated, spark long-term memories among those with Alzheimer's, and improve range of motion among those with arthritis or other physical problems.
Pet therapy was officially recognized over 40 years ago, but people have been using pets as part of a senior care routine informally for generations. Most senior care settings use volunteers who bring their pets to visit as a supplement to eldercare.
In an article by Laura Meade Kirk in The Providence Journal, Dr. Chris Hannifan, president of the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association, said that the benefits of the relationship between humans and pets have been proven. In the case of senior care, pets are sometimes the only ones who can get through to an older person who is otherwise noncommunicative.
I can attest to the benefits of pets in eldercare. When my grandma was in the late stages of Alzheimer's, she stopped communicating with people, both verbally and physically. But the last time I saw her, I witnessed a beautiful thing - our dog made her smile. We decided to bring Emmett to the senior care facility where Grandma was staying. Even though she did not respond to us or anyone else involved in her eldercare, her eyes brightened when Emmett greeted her. After months of being nonverbal, she actually said out loud that Emmett was cute, and we all left the senior care facility feeling a sense of peace.
If you don't already have a pet that's part of your eldercare routine, be sure to think carefully about what kind of pet will best enhance your parent's senior care. Dogs are popular choices, but cats and birds can bring enjoyment as well. Talk to an eldercare professional experienced in pet therapy about the best choice for your family.
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--Carrie L. Hill, Ph.D