Ongoing research seeks to pinpoint the therapeutic benefits of pet ownership (such as reduced blood pressure), but we don’t really need science to tell us about the many ways pets enhance our lives. They offer amusement, loyal companionship and unconditional love. No wonder 57 per cent of Canadian households own a pet.
“My husband is in advanced Alzheimer’s. We have a cocker spaniel, six years old, who we have had since she was eight weeks old. My hubby loves this dog to no end. Sadly he cannot remember her name now, but he is still her best friend. They sit in the same recliner all day long.”
Is pet ownership appropriate for an older adult? Here are five questions to consider.
- Is anyone allergic?
It’s hard to enjoy a pet if it makes you sneeze, break out in a skin rash or suffer an asthma attack. That’s why it’s important to rule out any medical reasons for not getting a pet. First make sure your loved one has no allergies to pet dander. Next, poll everyone who provides care for your loved one to see if they have pet allergy issues. If anyone is allergic, then you should probably avoid getting a pet. Despite the popular term “hypoallergenic pet,” you need to realize that technically there is no such thing as an allergy-free animal.
- Who will care for Fido?
Caring for a pet can provide an older adult with a real sense of purpose. No longer is your family member only a care-receiver; now he or she can be a care-giver, too. But not all older adults may be able to take care of a pet on a daily basis. Be sure to take into account their ability to meet its needs—now and in the future. If physical or cognitive decline renders your elderly family member unable to care for the pet, who will step in to help? Consider whether non-medical caregiving services that include pet care are a possibility.
- What breed makes the best couch potato?
Companionship represents one of the greatest benefits of pets for seniors. Simply having a warm body to hug, stroke and love can keep someone calm and congenial. Consider choosing an animal that will be happy to sit quietly and snuggle with your loved one for hours on end.
Some dog breeds, such as golden retrievers, are known for their laid-back nature. And sedate, elderly cats can be hard for shelters to adopt out, creating a win for both your loved one and the kitty.
- Who will choose the new pet?
It can be hard to cope with the loss of physical function or the cognitive decline that often accompany aging. Seniors often report feeling depressed when they become dependent on others for their care. Having a pet to care for can help a senior feel needed again. To start that journey toward restored purpose, let your family member choose the pet instead of giving one as a gift. Allowing them to pick out the new pet confers a sense of control and decision-making power they may be lacking in other areas of their life.
A furry family member can be a valuable part of your caregiving team.
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