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Sometimes elderly people have no option but to enter a care home or nursing home. This articles looks at the extra distress this can cause if they are parted from loved pets

Experts agree that pets benefit elderly people by providing companionship, improved activity levels, and more social contact as pet owners, especially dog owners tend to talk to each other. The routines that having a pet imposes also helps elderly people feel in control of at least one aspect of their life. For example, pets need to be fed at regular times, they have needs such as bedding and they can provide a reason to go to the shops.

Pets can help with bereavement

Researchers from Warwick University have also found that pets can provide emotional support during times of bereavement, such as loss of a partner. This is due to the stability of daily routines required to care for a pet, providing company and a 'person' to talk to in times when people feel a great sense of loss and being along, and acting a a repository of memories of the deceased friend or partner.

When things begin to go wrong

Sadly, growing older also increases the chance an elderly person not being able to look after their pet any longer. For example, health problems can lead to a pet owner having to go into hospital for a long period of time or in some cases, the elderly person may need to go into a care home or a nursing home.

No facilities for pets

It is also a sad fact of life that most hospitals and many care facilities do not allow pets. In these cases the pet either has to go to live with an accommodating friend or relative, or be re homed.

Researchers have found several problems faced by elderly people parting with pets on entering hospitals, care homes or nursing homes:

  • Residents who had owned pets before entry exhibited more negative feelings and emotions toward the move and were less likely to settle.
  • Former pet owners found it took longer to make friends and tended to avoid social gatherings.
  • Former pet owners deprived of their pet tend to have irregular sleeping habits and are more likely to resort to sleeping tablets.
  • Former pet owners tend to be unwilling to discuss their problems with carers - often believing that their predicament was beyond comprehension to most people.

Care homes that take pets

Clearly there is a demand for care homes and nursing homes that take pets. Indeed care homes that do take pets tend to be there more popular ones and there tend to be waiting lists. Obviously, there are many elderly people who do wish to keep their pets once they need care. But the benefits of keeping a pet for those who want to are enormous.

Factors that influence choice of care home

A well constructed policy on pets can be a huge selling point for a care home or nursing home. Allowing visiting animals such as good natured dogs that like to be patted, or keeping a communal pet such as a cat, is not a substitute to allowing an elderly person to keep their own pet. There are of course benefits in allowing 'patting' pets, and the effects can be very beneficial of the residents as a whole, but they cannot be regarded as a substitute for the unique relationship an elderly person has with their own pet.

No substitute

Many care homes who had communal or visiting pets saw no relief in the distress exhibited by elderly people on losing their own pet. Substitute pets cannot provide the same level of bonding.

More care homes allowing pets

Researchers have reported a recent trend of more care homes that do allow pets. A survey in Wales showed that nearly two thirds of homes had clear policies on pet ownership and over 75% allowed elderly people to keep their own pets.

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