Pet Friendly Assisted Living

May 6, 2016

Pet Friendly Assisted Living

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In the past, assisted living communities, along with many other group residential facilities, commonly did not allow domesticated animals entrance into the homes with admitted residents. However, over the last 40 years, animal ownership has tripled in the United States, with over 71 million American households having a pet. With more and more people adopting pets, elders in senior care communities are hoping not to have to separate from Fido (or Fluffy).

In previous years, animals were typically banned from group residences due to health regulations. However, this has been overturned due to the fact pets are regularly roaming personal households across the country without issue. A rapidly growing trend, more and more facilities are integrating animals into their activities and programs. Momentum for the inclusion of pets began with the emerging pet therapy being utilized across the nation in all different types of environments.

Benefits of Pets and the Elderly

Research shows even minimal amounts of time spent interacting with animals show a noticeable increase in brain chemicals, specifically serotonin known as the feel-good hormone of the brain. With science leading the way, more assisted living communities are developing monthly pet therapy programs.

Typically varied breeds of dogs and cats are taken to the assisted living homes to spend a day or a few days playing with the residents. Other senior residential homes have incorporated on-site animal farms including small horses and llamas. In this type of setting, seniors are encouraged to actively care for the animals as a group. The added responsibility of tending to another life is aimed to build self-esteem.

Utilizing pet therapy programs and in-house pets has proven to benefit almost every stage of a seniors experience within a senior care home.

Becoming Active Again

When a pet joins an assisted living community, many seniors often become smitten with the animal. In turn, the residents take on the responsibilities of caring for the animal such as feeding and walking. With more responsibility, the seniors become more active through purpose. Walking and playing with a pet can improve cardiovascular health and mood.

These pets can also help to lower blood pressure and heart rates significantly. This suggests that having a pet may help lower the risk of heart disease.

Finding Friends

Pets provide a common link between others. In a home, residents can engage with each other comfortable while engaging with the animal together. This allows new friendships and connections to be made throughout the residency. Playing and caring for the animals have shown a special impact on seniors who are prone to depression and isolation. In assisted living facilities with pet therapy programs, staff observed certain seniors become more social and happier in the home.

Benefits for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Patients

In addition to benefitting those with non-medical conditions, pet programs have a significant impact on seniors with dementia and specifically, sundowner’s syndrome. The confusion, panic, and irritation experienced with sundowner’s syndrome can be noticeably decreased through animal interaction. The non-verbal communication tends to soothe the symptoms of dementia. The animals can even trigger memories for many. Interacting with the pets can create mental connections with past pets from a patient’s life resulting in a flow of remembrances, especially for those with verbal difficulty.

Transitioning from a familiar and independent life to a large home with strangers can be daunting and outright scary. Animals provide a sense of unconditional love and security unparalleled to that of a human relationship. Providing a purpose and a safety net through a pet can significantly help your loved one manage this major life change.

However, be weary of the amount of responsibility, which comes along with a pet. Although personal pets can be quite beneficial and provide a successful transition, each senior is different and may not be able to take on such a responsibility. When transitioning into senior caring, it is important your loved one’s desires are placed first to ensure they are content.

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Frequently Asked Questions

I was just told that my Dad is getting kicked out of assisted living. Is that possible?

Unfortunately, yes. Though it sounds awful, seniors can sometimes get kicked out of assisted living communities. Some of the reasons senior get kicked out are: endangering the health and safety of other residents or workers, breaking the rules, not paying the bill, or needing more healthcare than the community provides. However, most communities will provide residents with at least 30 days’ notice of eviction to allow families to plan around the situation. 

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What’s the difference between home care and an assisted living facility?

There are several differences between home care and assisted living. Home care means hiring a trained professional to provide care right in your home, while assisted living involves moving to a community to receive similar care. The amount of assistance that home care provides depends on your senior's needs and can be tailored accordingly. Home care can range anywhere from weekly companionship and therapy to 24-hour skilled nursing care or even hospice. In contrast, assisted living provides seniors with an enriching community of their peers and medical attention as needed, making it a flexible option for many. 

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