“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” Roger Caras
I work for a facility that serves the elderly. Our job is to keep them living safely in the community as long as possible. People thrive when provided with assistance to maintain as much independence as possible in their homes and communities. We can sprinkle rainbows and let unicorns run freely through the halls of America’s longterm care nursing facilities but at the end of the day, the elderly are dependent upon others for care; independence, for the most part, becomes a thing of the past. Don’t get me wrong, for some families, longterm care is the only or best option for caring for their loved ones, and there are many good facilities with great people who provide the best care possible.
Recently, I became a coach for teaching the importance of touch to those caring for elders. One wouldn’t think there would be a need to teach people how to touch others, but we have strayed from seeing people as humans, particularly in the medical field. Fortunately, touch is being rediscovered as a modality for easing pain, calming those with dementia, and for validating the humanity of all. And touch needn’t be exclusively human for it to be effective.
On the flip side, there has been an uptick in the use of service dogs and emotional support animals, and their value cannot be overlooked or ignored especially with the elderly. Quality of life for seniors living in the community can be supported through trained service dogs and emotional support animals. Service dogs can alert their humans to the onset of seizures, hypoglycemic episodes and interrupt anxiety attacks, to name a few. Emotional support animals provide contact with another living breathing created being to ease loneliness and comfort for those with chronic pain, but an animal does not need to be designated as an emotional support animal to positively impact the quality of life. The simple act of petting an animal releases oxytocin, the ‘feel-good’ hormone, and decreases the stress hormone cortisol. Together the effect equals lower blood pressures and reductions in anxiety and symptoms of depression.
My mom has always loved cats. When she moved into senior housing she didn’t think it possible to own a cat. It took me years to convince her the apartment complex was obligated to honor a prescription from a doctor stating she was in need of a support animal. My mother now has a cat. The change has been dramatic. She has a reason to get up in the morning, a living being that is dependent upon her for its care, and a warm, purring ball of fur who curls up next to her when she is in pain or experiencing a bout of depression. Animals are highly intuitive and can tell when their human family members are ill, in pain, or emotionally struggling. Medications can ease physical or emotional symptoms but an animal is medicine for the spirit.
Young people don’t readily realize the world of our elders is an ever-shrinking world. Independence is relative to their abilities, access to transportation, and finances. Animals, service dogs or pets, make the ever-shrinking world of the elderly much more bearable. Animals really are good medicine for the spirit…..