July 23rd, 2012 at 10:53 am
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Pets provide mental, physical benefits to elders

by Dorian Martin

One important caregiving lesson I’ve repeatedly learned is that animals have an amazing ability to bring comfort to the elderly.

Example 1. My mother (who had Alzheimer’s disease) calmed down when I’d bring my Miniature Schnauzer, Zoe, for a visit to the nursing home. I’d put Zoe on Mom’s lap and push Mom’s wheelchair to the visiting area as Mom patted Zoe’s head. Invariably, we’d have a great visit if Zoe was there.

Example 2. Dad fell while carrying groceries into his home. Even though the front door was wide open, Dad’s dog, Austin, opted to stay by Dad’s side to calm him until assistance came.

Example 3. A story in the Baltimore Sun notes that some hospitals and health-care facilities are allowing pet visits in order to improve patients’ moods and, potentially, their health. The presence of pets also eases tense situations when doctors have to deliver bad news. “Recently, one dog was allowed to attend a meeting where doctors had to tell a patient’s husband that she was going to die; the dog’s presence helped calm him,” reporter Meredith Cohn wrote.

Pets also can provide significant benefits in helping elders remain healthy. The National Center for Infectious Diseases, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), reported that pets help decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and feelings of loneliness in humans. Pets also increase the opportunity for people to exercise and get outdoors, as well as to socialize.

Pets and the elderly: 7 caregiving tips

However, it’s really important to take precautions if pets are going to be around the elderly. Make sure that the pet’s vaccinations are current and that it is regularly bathed and groomed. The CDC also warns that people who have organ transplants are more at risk to contract diseases from animals. They recommend the following steps (which are good advice to follow in all cases):

  1. Wash hands regularly with running water and soap after handling animals and their feces.
  2. If the pet becomes ill, take it to see the veterinarian as soon as possible.
  3. If the elder has birds, clean the cage lining daily. Use gloves whenever handling items that have been contaminated by bird feces.
  4. If the elder has a cat, clean the litter box daily. Don’t place the litter box in the kitchen, dining room or other area where food is prepared and eaten. Keep the cat indoors.
  5. If the elder has fish, wear disposable globes when cleaning the fish tank. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards.
  6. Don’t let pets have access to the garbage.
  7. Feed pets high-quality commercial pet foods in order to protect them from diseases. If the pet is fed eggs, poultry or meat, make sure these foods are well-cooked.

With the proper care, a pet can provide substantial physical, mental and emotional health benefits for the elderly that are priceless.

Posted in Caregiving | 2 Comments »

2 Comments to “Pets provide mental, physical benefits to elders”

  1. Sarah Foster

    Excellent post! As you mentioned the CDC (and others I am sure) have done studies on the connection of having pets and human health. I completely agree, but they help all humans and not just elderly. Although, in this case, they can be extremely helpful for the elderly to have.

    I think you listed some great pet care tips. All people should follow these tips, but the people who should follow them should be the caregivers of the elderly. Their immune systems are not what they could be sometimes and so every precaution should be taken.

    Wonderful! Thank you!

  2. So true! Pets can have a positive effect on the health of their human companions! We wrote an entire article about the “Power of Pets”.

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