What is more soothing than the soft, cuddly warmth of a dog or cat on your lap? How do you look at those eyes and not smile?
Tony’s Cat – Porter
For many of us, these animals are important and loved members of the family. For aging adults in all levels of senior living, that emotional connection is a significant factor in their health and well-being. More and more care communities are recognizing this fact and incorporating or even promoting pets into their operation and care programs. Including animals living in the buildings does not have to be stressful for managers and operators, since many elements in a well-designed senior living community lend themselves to having the pets around.
When an older adult comes to the realization that moving into some form of senior living community is in their future, it can be very stressful. It is a major change to move to new surroundings and meet new people. Adding to that stress is the process of downsizing a lifetime of possessions into a much smaller living space. The decision between what items are kept and what is let go will eventually get to the four legged one. Thankfully there are more places that take that issue out of the equation, allowing cats and dogs to accompany the resident.
Anyone who has a pet understands the benefits of animal companionship. They require a little work to take care of, but their love repays those efforts many times over. Numerous benefits of pet ownership are well documented, and are even more pronounced for seniors. Caring for a pet creates purpose for residents and also instills self-confidence.
- Pets lower blood pressure and pulse rate
- Up to 21% fewer visits to the doctor
- Less depression
- Easier to make friends (enhanced social opportunities)
- Seniors become more active by walking, playing and grooming animals
- Pets offer affection and unconditional love
- Pets ease loss of a loved one
- Pets fight loneliness as people like to talk to animals
- Seniors take better care of themselves, to “be there” for the animal
- Sense of security
The downside to having animals in the building is that they can be messy if not tended to. As the mental capacity of the pet owner declines, it can become the burden of the building management to see to this. The supervised living conditions make it ideal for both animal and owner to safely live together until it becomes physically impractical. Cleaning staff can monitor the living conditions to ensure not only sanitary surroundings but also the health of the animal. Some communities have employed Pet Partner staff for this purpose, coordinating animal feeding and veterinary services.
The elements that make a building livable for seniors are also conducive to pets. The materials, finishes and furniture are typically robust enough to handle the wear. Toileting accidents are easier to clean since this is always a concern for people. The increased ventilation in newer buildings prevents odors from becoming a concern. Rather than just looking out the window at green spaces, pet owners will often make better use of these areas, getting outside more often with their animal.
Some additional features can make a building even more animal-friendly. A dog washing station provides a much needed feature and can become a social center. Kitchen base cabinets within resident units can be adapted to provide dish space for food and water that do not impede the resident walking path. This keeps the feeding area cleaner and prevents falls. Dedicated exhaust to a closet area can make cat litter boxes less obvious of a nuisance. Raising up the litter box off the floor eases access for cleaning.
With minimal effort, just about any senior living community can comfortably and safely house small dogs and cats as well at it does people. The benefits of this kind of living environment extend beyond the resident and their families. What better way to break up the work day for building staff than to take a moment to scratch behind the ears of a happy dog?
It’s getting colder outside and snowflakes are falling in much of the country. The dark, dreary days of winter and the holiday season can be an emotionally stressful time as people reflect on their past and loved ones that are no longer with us. Counter those feelings with the furry warmth of a cat purring on your lap. Hug a tail wagging dog. Take joy in the companionship of an animal, it will keep you young.