Transitioning to a nursing home can be a challenge – it’s a different environment, new residents may be unaccustomed to the home’s schedule and there are many names and faces to remember. There are lots of things you can do to help improve the quality of life for someone living in a nursing home – one of the best and simplest ways of helping is to provide a resident with a pet.
For someone living in a nursing home, the abundance of other people, like the staff and fellow residents, doesn’t necessarily mean a newcomer won’t feel lonely. It takes time to get to know others, and some seniors may prefer to keep to themselves, or may not enjoy everyone else’s company.
A pet can help stave off loneliness, with none of the difficulty involved in making friends with new people. A well-trained pet is almost always where a person expects to find it, doesn’t argue and is non-judgmental. Seniors who need companionship do best with pets that can be interacted with – like dogs, cats, gerbils or hamsters. Dogs and cats are particularly intelligent, capable of recognizing their owner’s voice, and can show affection, which is helpful for anyone who feels lonely.
A Greater Sense of Responsibility
Some seniors suffer from depression or bouts of sadness. Growing old can be difficult – the loss of physical and mental capacity may be hard to accept. Introducing a pet into senior’s life gives them a sense of responsibility, helping them realize that they are still capable of caring for someone else, instead of simply being cared for by others.
Almost any type of pet is appropriate in such a scenario, whether a larger animal, a fish, a bird, a small rodent or even a lizard. What matters most is that the pet owner enjoys having the animal around and is capable watching over it. Pets that require exercise and regular feeding are a better choice for seniors who still have good mobility. Smaller or less active animals are better suited to people who have limitations.
Pets Reduce the Risk of Depression
Some seniors are at a heightened risk for depression. Life circumstances, illness, deteriorating abilities, loneliness and medication all play a role. Animals can bring joy back into a senior’s life – most pets are naturally curious, playful creatures, and engaging with them is a great way for someone to focus their attention outward, away from an anxious mind.
The best pets for uplifting the spirits are animals which are intelligent, curious, playful, affectionate – and furry. A University of Missouri-Columbia study demonstrated what people have known intuitively for millennia: petting animals, especially dogs, can cause a dramatic rise in the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a critical role in staving off depression.
Better Physical Health
Any pet – even the smallest and most inactive – requires a degree of care which forces the pet owner to get up and move around. People tend to become more sedentary as they age, but it’s important for seniors to remain active. Having to take care of an animal will help ensure that a nursing home resident gets some physical activity every day.
Which type of pet is most appropriate depends on the senior’s health. For those who are frail, weak or can’t move easily, a smaller animal which doesn’t require much space – reptiles, a fish, a bird or a small rodent – is suitable. For the stronger, more active senior, larger pets like cats and dogs are a good choice. Cats like to play and most dogs enjoy regular exercise.
The best senior care involves more than keeping the elderly housed and fed – it is comprehensive, caring and compassionate. There should an understanding that quality of life depends on more than just basic needs being met, and that a pet is a wonderful way to help seniors feel loved, responsible and capable.