Improved health to the elderly
For many people, dogs are an important source of love and friendship – sadly sometimes their only source! Importantly a dog can provide unconditional acceptance and warmth. In this way they can help improve mood and reduce depression, thus acting as a psychological boost to our lives.
Demographic trends such as increased lifespan, smaller and more scattered families, and higher levels of divorce / separation all mean that more people are living alone. Sadly many feel isolated and lonely and there are an increasing number of older people in residential and nursing homes. Pets are therefore becoming increasingly important.
Benefits to health
Pet ownership provides many general benefits to human health. Those that especially relate to the elderly include: Companionship and a “purpose for life” helping to establish a regular daily routine and improving self-esteem.
The encouragement of regular physical activity.
Improved comfort during recovery from illness or injury and rehabilitation. Recent research has demonstrated that interaction with animals can benefit individuals with conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Pets As Therapy
Pets As Therapy is a national UK charity founded in 1983. It provides therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes, special needs schools and a variety of other venues by volunteers with their own friendly, temperament tested and vaccinated dogs and cats. Since its beginning over 23,000 PAT dogs have been registered, and currently there are over 4,500 active PAT dogs and 108 PAT cats at work in the UK. Every week these animals visit more than 130,000 people, totalling a staggering 6.75million annually.
Research continues to validate the very real value of this daily work undertaken in the community by voluntary PAT visitors and their dogs that work amongst those of us most in need of a little extra boost in addition to medical skills and nursing care.
The real benefits to institutions which implement animal visits as part of their routine include:
- Improved interpersonal relationships of the residents in their care
- Enhanced self esteem of the residents in their care
- Improved verbalisation of the residents in their care
- Improved treatment of patients with dementia and Alzheimer ’s disease
As a result of the above, there is reduced staff stress, reduced staff turnover and ultimately cost savings
For more information check the PAT website on: www.petsastherapy.org
Pets helping to link children with the elderly
One project worthy of special mention was reported at the IAHAIO conference in Tokyo in 1997. Robin Zelcher worked in a school for children with special needs in Jerusalem. The school had some animals and Robin had the idea that the children could take the animals to a local residential home for the elderly. In the event, the animals proved to be a catalyst to facilitate the communication between the children and the old people, with benefits to all. The programme was such a success that it was followed up with a visit to a zoo, the children acting as escorts to the elderly.
What type of dog is best for an elderly person at home?
Making the right choice of dog is difficult for any family. There are some special considerations for older people. Depending on its size, a dog will need to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. For older people, especially those with limited mobility, a small dog requiring less exercise may be preferable. This imposed requirement for exercise in old people, as long as it is within appropriate limits, may be good for their own health and routine.
Remember too, dogs get old, and will also get less mobile and require help and assistance. This may be physically difficult if the dog is large or overweight.
What about getting an old dog for an elderly person?
The Elderly Animal Re-homing Scheme (EARS) provides invaluable companionship for animals and owners, particularly for elderly people who may live alone or who have recently lost a loved one and the scheme has received the backing of Help the Aged and Age Concern.
It's a sad fact that re-homing some elderly dogs can be a difficult process. Many potential dog owners can be reluctant to take on an older animal due to fears of increased demands on time and money.
Some branches of the RSPCA offer an Elderly Animal Re-homing Scheme (EARS), which aims to help alleviate these worries and pair older animals with appropriate new owners. In return for a small contribution of £5 per month, EARS offers owners a range of assurances, including:
- Discounts on food and visits to the veterinarian
- Help with transport
- A 24-hour phone number to call in case of emergency
New owners under the scheme are given an ID card, which qualifies their pet for a range of benefits, including annual booster vaccinations, health checks, routine worming tablets and flea treatments.
Find out more on www.rspca.org.uk/allaboutanimals/pets/rehoming