Most people enjoy talking about pets, whether it is a cat, dog, bird or something else. Whether or not one has a pet or has ever had one, pets bring people together and keep us active.
According to Debbie Cirillo, executive director at Vitalia Active Adult Community in Solon; Nan Stewart, executive director at LSS Kensington Place in Columbus; and Laura Templar, director of volunteer services at Judson Senior Living in Cleveland, interactions with pets can have a positive impact on seniors.
“Though I don’t think it has anything directly to do with age, it’s the act of looking after something,” Stewart said. “For seniors, most of them are living alone now and with that, a cat or dog gives them a sense of purpose. It makes a difference in their daily lives. And that is the unconditional love we all look for. I truly believe it comes down to having a living being to care for.”
Cirillo added, “Pets help create a sense of community and they also help with socialization, even if you don’t currently have a pet. It’s always nice to be around pets. If you like pets, you’re engaged when you see one. It’s just a way to engage with other people.”
Templar mirrored the sentiment, adding it’s easy to connect with someone who has a pet even if you don’t have one. At Judson, she said volunteers would bring dogs and cats in to visit with residents. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve been Skyping them to show them the pets to continue the positive interactions.
“(A senior) may have had a pet before coming (to a senior living community) and decided they didn’t want to bring them or couldn’t care for them, so it’s a way to make their life here feel like their old home and helps ease the transition,” she noted. “It also helps residents with dementia, an animal might be the spark they need. You can just see their face light up and the delight it brings them.”
The benefits of interacting with pets are far-reaching, affecting a senior’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
“When you can touch or pet an animal, you’re stimulating yourself. Interacting with that animal and the delight it gives you is incomparable,” Templar said. “The pet can also be a nice conduit for residents who are shy to facilitate a conversation with someone else. It’s a nice way to engage.”
Cirillo added, “Physically, just walking the pet is of course a way to stay active. People who have dogs and walk them get a lot more exercise. Pets also help reduce depression and anxiety, and it assists in transition in a move to a senior community. Pets can be very comforting. I mean, who doesn’t smile when they see a dog or a cat?”
Each senior community said they tend to accept dogs, cats, fish and birds as live-in companions. And if a senior is struggling to keep up with some aspects of care, outside help can also help walking or to care for the pet to an extent.
When preparing for a move to a senior community with a pet, seniors should expect a transition period.
“Their pet is probably one of the more crucial ‘items’ they bring with them,” Stewart noted. “They will maintain their routine, so even if they are living in a new environment, they have that sense of routine regardless. The animal can help them settle in. And the animal can come out, be in the common areas and help other residents too. I truly believe in the power of pets.”