For senior citizens living alone or in nursing homes, a pet can provide comfort and companionship unmatched by human relationships. They can enrich the quality of life for those suffering from loneliness, depression, or physical ailments. Pets offer unconditional love, loving us regardless of what we wear, what kind of car we drive, or how much money we have. Eager to please us, it doesn’t matter to them if we can’t walk or have to use a wheelchair.
Especially for the elderly who have lost a beloved spouse, a pet can be a source of mutual affection that they can cuddle and talk to. Pet can help senior citizens overcome depression, to start caring about the world around them, and adapt to the changing circumstances of their lives by distracting them from their troubles.
A pet may enrich the physical health of the elderly by encouraging them toward physical exercise which will increase their mobility and the ability to care for themselves. Relaxing with a pet can lower blood pressure, decrease the need for pain medications, and reduce post-operative pain.
Quite often senior citizens will consider having a pet more important than moving to a more convenient place to live where pets aren’t allowed. Many nursing homes have mascot pets or will allow the seniors’ own pets to come for a visit, and all states now allow pets in nursing homes. Having a dog or cat mascot in a nursing home has as many benefits as if the residents had their own pets. The elderly residents may reminisce about pets that they had as children and begin to communicate and interact more readily with the other residents and staff members, and become more receptive to necessary medical treatments
For seniors who live independently, be aware that federal mandates allow people who live in federally-funded housing units to have pets, including fish, birds, dogs, cats, rodents, and turtles. Owners are required to maintain their pets responsibly, and there may be restrictions placed on the size and number of animals. Elderly pet owners who live alone need a contingency plan in case they become unable to care for their pet because of an illness or emergency. Pertinent information should be written on a card, including the names of the pets and their descriptions, the address where the senior lives, the name of their veterinarian, any medicines the pet needs, and the name of a person to contact, a family member or friend who has agreed to look after the pet in case of an emergency. It would be wise to have more than one card; perhaps one on the refrigerator, one in the car, and one to be kept with the owner. Seniors with physical disabilities or limited mobility may need help with the more difficult tasks involved in pet care, such as walking the dog, bathing pets, or cleaning the cat litter box. Friends, neighbors, or church members may be willing to help.
Pets, especially dogs, should be socialized to accept other people and allow them into the house. Home health care workers and emergency medical technicians may need to enter the house to provide care and should not be hindered by an unfriendly canine.
Elderly people suffering from loneliness, depression, or physical disabilities often put up barriers between themselves and other humans. Animal companions are usually successful at breaking down these barriers to allow the elderly to have more fulfilling lives in their golden years!