The Use of Pets in Elder Care

Most elder care facilities have strict “no pets” rules, so a move from home to a facility will often involve leaving beloved pets behind.

While this might seem the most practical decision, what is often overlooked are the healing and pacifying effects animals can have on people—particularly those who feel the stress of perceived institutionalization and the loneliness of aging.

It has been shown that pets can have a therapeutic and restorative effect on those who suffer from various illnesses, maladies and stress-related conditions. This may be due to the intimate connection that comes from the physical experience of petting, cuddling and caring for a pet. It may also be a product of the relationship that develops between the human and the pet, as all animals have individual personalities and characteristics. By getting to know an animal and sharing in its care, people may develop a sense of companionship that can assuage the feelings of loneliness and helplessness that are often associated with aging.

Although it may not be possible to allow patients to keep their own pets in most facilities, this does not mean that contact with animals is impossible. Your facility could host a weekly animal visit, in which patients are given the opportunity work with/care for/walk specific “adopted” animals. Another option is a weekly visit to a petting zoo, which can also help provide the intimacy and wonder that comes from physically interacting with animals. For those patients who are somewhat independent, it may also be possible to volunteer at the local humane society.

No matter what form this project takes, exposure to animals/pets can be very therapeutic for aging patients, and should be considered when designing your elder care program.

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