Most of us understand how pets bring joy to people and why they are important. This is particularly true for older folks who may have lost loved ones and who have also lost regular human companionship. A dog or cat can provide that unconditional love we all need.
More assisted living facilities and homes where elders live independently now allow pets, with certain restrictions, such as size and weight of the pet. When visiting my 95-year-old mother in law, Alice, we often see people walking their dogs around the place. It’s a senior’s community which offers independent living apartments as well as assisted living. Like many of that type, it’s pet-friendly. In other locations, such as nursing homes, pet programs include bringing in dogs, birds or other small creatures for the residents to pet and play with on scheduled visits. The residents love it. Elders with dementia often relate very well to the creatures who visit.
It’s not all fun though. When an older person lives alone in declining health, he or she may not be able to adequately care for the pooch or kitty. Someone has to take their animal to the vet for their shots or for treatment with the various ailments older pets suffer from just as their human counterparts do: arthritis, pneumonia, flu, etc. And a frail elder with balance issues may not be entirely safe with a rambunctious dog that likes to jump up, run around them and increase the risk of tripping or falling on Rover. Canes and walkers don’t always mix well with beloved pets.
Families have to consider the pros and cons of keeping the pet on hand as a parent ages, perhaps has vision problems or is unsteady on his feet. Some families take in the parent’s cherished animal and bring the pet to visit Mom or Dad at the seniors’ residence. Some elders are forced to part with their favorite four-legged friend when a move to a new residence and loss of ability to drive makes it impossible to care for the pet properly.
As a dog lover myself, I can only say that all solutions should be considered before the heartbreak of separating anyone from an animal they love. There are dog walkers who can be paid to exercise a loved one’s pooch every day, run them to the vet, ensure that pet medication is given and that the dog or cat gets all needed care. Caregivers helping an aging parent may be recruited to care for a pet right along with caring for its owner. When recruiting a caregiver, that additional responsibility could be included in the job description, perhaps with a pay bonus for certain additional chores. Finally, if it is impossible to keep the pet where the parent lives, it is an act of caring to find a way for someone in the family, a neighbor or friend to adopt the animal and bring it for regular visits to see its owner. That’s good for the human and good for the pet too.
It’s not fair to any pet to allow it to be neglected as an aging parent becomes cognitively impaired. Memory loss might mean forgetting to feed the animal or keep it safe. We don’t want to see any pet with less care than it needs because the elder’s family forgot about the risks of aging and how the aging parent might do unintentional harm to the animal. Cognitive decline, “early dementia”, Alzheimer’s disease and many other problems can pose a danger to the pet. Considering long-term care plans for your elders, be sure to consider a matching long-term care plan for the elder’s animals. Their pets are indeed family too and do a lot to comfort and support an aging person with communication difficulty or even with the loneliness that so many elders face. That furry cuddle from the cat or that doggie smile with a wagging tail can give your aging parent a lift that goes beyond what words can say.
If your family is finding a challenge now with how to care for aging loved ones, get the expert help you need at AgingParents.com. Our nurse-lawyer, psychologist team can save you hours of time and aggravation in helping you solve the stickiest problems.
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