Recently, a law professor in Iowa has been encouraging nursing homes in the U.S. to extend their policies to allow residents to have pets. She has also been pushing for state legislation that would ease the ability for elders to move into their new homes with their furry friends.  The professor points to several studies that indicate the benefit of pets on the aging.

Feeding the dog

[Credit: Ed Yourdon]

 
According to such studies, pets have a very positive effect on the elderly:

1) Pets lower blood pressure and pulse rate
2) Patients with pets have 21% fewer visits to the doctor
3) Pets decrease depression and feelings of loneliness
4) They enhance social opportunities
5) Allow seniors to become more active
6) Pets offer affection and love
7) Pets ease bereavement of a loved one
8) Allow seniors to take better care of themselves
9) Provide a sense of security

Though a majority of aging care facilities still prohibit pets to make the transition with their owners, and reasonably so – some elders are too frail to take care of the pets, residents may have allergies that caregivers want to avoid, pets can carry illnesses, and facilities may not want to be burdened by the extra expense pets bring – the effects of these studies are touching hearts and catching on.

There are many options out there for promoting the use of pets in nursing-home care while maintaining the balance of your aging care community, and countries around the world are seeing the benefits:

Therapy Dogs International, a volunteer-based organization offers dogs as therapy by visiting nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities as needed.

In Scotland, an experimental program by Alzheimer’s Scotland and Dogs for the Disabled has been training dogs to help people with dementia.  The program will take affect this September with the aim of helping dementia patients maintain their routine and provide social benefits.

In Australia, the Center for Companion Health at The University of Queensland has been conducting research through clinical studies by bringing pets into hospitals and clinics.

In Japan, pets are quickly starting to outnumber people. Birth rates have been on a decline in Japan for several decades, and the aging community has found relief from loneliness in the companionship of pets.  Previously considered outdoor creatures, the Japanese are starting to welcome pets as one of the family, indoors.

Is this a growing trend in nursing homes and living facilities around the world or is it losing speed? Please share your experiences and stories of therapy pets in your region.

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