More than six in every 10 American households include at least one pet. So it should not be surprising that pets continue to play an important role in the lives of older adults even when their home situation changes.
Man’s best friend has become an integral part of every day at nursing homes across Oklahoma.
For the elderly, pets can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and increase social interaction, physical activity and learning.
“We know that people do better around living things like plants, animals and people, which is why we wanted to include in-residence pets at our home,” said Shange Loyd, administrator at Grace Living Center El Reno, where residents and staff benefit from the affection bestowed upon them by two Basset hounds — Harry and Lou Lou.
“They are like little kids. They just go from resident to resident to get petted. When someone is down or depressed, the dogs seem to know because they will go to that resident and love on them and give them attention,” said Patsie Daniel, a resident of the home.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, caring for a cat or dog helps older adults overcome depression and loneliness.
At Grace Living Center Stillwater, a feisty feline named Oreo roams the halls, visiting and cuddling with residents.
“She is wonderful. Every morning she makes the rounds, she goes into all the resident’s rooms in her hall and will jump on the bed and lay with them,” said Tasha Voss, activities director at the home.
“I love Oreo coming into my room day and night. She’s good company and we all love her very much,” said resident Doris Gibson.
At Grace Living Center Norman, a resident cat and two birds provide the pet-people connection.
“Caring for the whole person is at the heart of our philosophy of care at Grace,” said Josh Wood, administrator of the Norman home. “Having pets at the home offers a special type of companionship to the residents.”
Many residents have had to leave behind treasured pets. So having pets at the facility helps fill that void.
Babette Blanchard, a resident at Grace, has always loved animals and was more than thrilled when she was able to adopt a loving tabby cat named Sam from the Norman Animal Shelter two years ago. And Sam is no stranger when it comes to making new friends.
“He is always playing with the other residents and purring for attention. He will just flop down and wait for you to rub his belly. I call him a gentle giant,” Blanchard said.
Pets are also part of the family at Grace Living Center Buffalo. Quality Manager Marie Mattheyer regularly brings her two dogs with her to work to visit the residents. Ollie is part morkie and part long-haired Chihuahua, while Emme is part miniature Australian shepherd and part rat terrier.
“The dogs really lift the residents’ spirits,” said administrator Shannon Day.
An article in U.S. News & World Report looked at 25 studies evaluating the effects of pets on elderly people in nursing homes. Those studies found that residents exposed to pets consistently smiled more and became measurably more alert than those who did not encounter animals. Studies also found that pets helped normalize the environment, allowing people to be more at ease and feel more at home.
At Rebold Manor in Okmulgee, a black Labrador named Fred helps break down emotional and communication barriers.
“I have an open door policy but thanks to Fred, the residents always feel like they can come talk to me about anything,” said administrator Jennifer Ortega.
“Fred is the friendliest dog we could have. He knows who to say ‘hi’ to in the morning. He even comes to exercise with us. I love seeing Fred every day. He always makes me smile,” said resident Betty Davidson.
Many homes also welcome visits by pet therapy dogs and may encourage family and friends to bring residents’ own pets by for a visit as long as they have had their shots and are not aggressive.
If you are considering bringing a pet for a visit, nursing home administrators suggest that you call first to discuss the visit with the home’s administrator.
Amanda Crase is with Evergreen Productions.